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Human, Economic Health On the Line with EPA Rules, Say Supporters

Air pollution in China where coal fired power plants have impacted air quality. CNN Health

TALLAHASSEE, FL - The Environmental Protection Agency is taking public comments on rules designed to cut carbon pollution from power plants by nearly one-third from 2005 levels.

Supporters say the new regulations also would save thousands of lives a year - and critics say the carbon pollution limits would have a devastating economic impact. But former EPA administrator Carol Browner said a healthy environment actually makes the economy healthier. She cited one study that found clean-air rules saved the United States about $1.3 trillion in 2010.

"The two go together," she said. "The EPA proposal is just a clear example of that, that you can find these common-sense, cost-effective ways to clean our air and protect the health of our communities."

People don't often realize how costly air pollution is, said Laura Anderko, a professor at Georgetown University's School of Nursing and Health Studies. Thousands die from its health effects every year, she said. They often are children or the elderly, many from the poor communities located downwind of the smokestacks.

"People are sick, they can't go to work. Kids are sick, they can't go to school," she said. "All of these ER visits from asthma attacks and hospitalizations cost a great deal of money."

When making presentations, Anderko said, she often asks crowds how many of them know people with lung problems.

"Everyone, when I ask that question, will raise their hand that they know at least one person - whether it's a child, an elderly person, or it might be themselves - that suffer from asthma or other cardio-respiratory diseases," she said.

Many of the health benefits projected from reducing carbon pollution are incidental, the result of burning less coal. But Andarko said climate change will increase heat and the amount of dangerous ozone in the air people breathe. Reducing those conditions, she said, will mean fewer respiratory problems for vulnerable people.

The agency will hold public hearings on the rules in four cities this week - in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington. The EPA hearing schedule and the Clean Power Plan proposal are online.

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