Protecting Our Waters

Dr. Poune Saberi: “Fossil fuels are dead”

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On July 30, 2014, Dr. Poune Saberi traveled from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. to testify at a public hearing on the EPA Clean Power Plan. Others have traveled farther to testify at EPA hearings, like the retired coal miner who traveled 1,300 miles from Harlan County, Kentucky, to testify in Denver, Colorado, pleading, “We’re Dying, Literally Dying For You To Help Us.” Others earned headlines for testifying from a faith-based perspective: “At EPA Hearing, Religious Leaders Call Carbon Pollution ‘An Affront To God.’

Dr. Saberi’s quiet authority stems from her work as a doctor and public health researcher; it generated no headlines. But when a physician who has witnessed sudden death and the struggle for life connects that witnessing to the fight for our climate, the resulting testimony is powerful and cogent. Read on:

EPA Clean Power Plan Testimony

Pouné Saberi, MD, MPH

July 30, 2014

Washington, DC

There is a Dakota saying that goes like this: “ When you find yourself riding a dead horse, dismount.” (1)

My name is Dr. Poune Saberi and I am a physician in Occupational and Environmental Medicine and a faculty member at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. I am here to say: fossil fuels are dead and we must dismount.

The Clean Power Plan (2) is a key life-saving move and I want to thank EPA for their initiative. I want to tell you about a first encounter with a patient that I will never forget. The initial visit started out routine, but when I asked if she had any children, her eyes welled up and she began telling me the story of her 17 year old son destined for college with scholarship, raised as an only child by this single mother. One day she received a call that he had an asthma attack and was taken to the emergency room. This time the asthma attack proved to be fatal and she never even had a chance to speak to him before he stopped breathing.

Forty-four percent of all asthma hospitalizations are for children. (3)  I practiced primary care for ten years before specializing in Occupational and Environmental medicine. I have seen the wide spectrum of patients hurt by exposure to outdoor air pollution. Seeing the alarmingly rapid and shallow breathing of an infant is not an experience you would want to voluntarily take part in. It is heart breaking when the vulnerable among us unfairly take a large hit from our actions.

Unacceptable Sacrifices

At the other end of the spectrum are the workers in the fossil fuel industry. I live and work in Pennsylvania where methane gas development has exposed many of the workers to volatile organic compounds, silica sand and radioactive material. A 26-year-old worker died in southwestern Pennsylvania when a methane gas well exploded. This is why I am here today. When industry focuses on profits over health, it is up to us to raise our voices against these unacceptable sacrifices.

August 6, 2014: DEP Details Cause Of Fatal Greene Co. Gas Well Fire. Photo: Pittsburgh CBS Local

I commend EPA for introducing this rule. However, this is just an introduction – an introduction to a promising direction as a society if we all agree to make the efficiency proposal much more stringent and the focus on non-combustibles much more robust.

Here are the strong points of the Clean Power Plan:

There are many things in our world today we cannot fix. This one we can.

Here is what I believe this rule has ignored:

 

In summary, we must phase out coal, not transition to natural gas or nuclear, and we must fully embrace non-carbon, non-combustible sources of energy.

 

I will end by pleading that this administration transition from being a world leader in pollution to being a world leader in energy solutions.

 

Thank you.

Pouné Saberi, MD, MPH

 

Notes:

1. Dakota people: The saying, “If you are riding a dead horse, dismount” is widely attributed by multiple sources both to the Dakota and to the Lakota people.  The word Dakota means “ally” in the Dakota language, and the Dakota also refer to themselves as Ikce Wicasas (“Free people”) and Dakota Oyate (“Dakota people”)[3]

2. EPA’s original document spelling out their Clean Power Plan:  http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-06/documents/20140602ria-clean-power-plan.pdf

3. “The Burden of Children’s Asthma: What Asthma Costs Nationally, Locally, and Personally” From pediatricasthma.org, downloaded  from http://www.pediatricasthma.org/about/asthma_burden

4. General source: Q&A: EPA Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Existing Power Plants | Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, downloaded from http://www.c2es.org/federal/executive/epa/q-a-regulation-greenhouse-gases-existing-power

5. General source: Georgetown Climate Center Summary of the EPA’s Proposed Rule to Limit GHGs downloaded from http://www.georgetownclimate.org/

6. Retired Coal Miner To EPA: ‘We’re Dying, Literally Dying For You To Help Us’ downloaded from http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/07/31/3465941/health-concern-epa-hearings/

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