On June 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the Clean Power Plan, a proposal to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants over the next fifteen years. Once implemented, the proposed federal regulations would be the first to place limits on carbon emissions from existing power plants. The plan provides leadership and a path forward for decreasing carbon pollution, and makes an important contribution to protecting the health of communities served by local health departments.
By 2030, the proposal would cut power plant carbon emissions by 30 percent, based on reductions from carbon emissions levels in 2005. The proposal provides guidelines for states to develop plans to meet state-specific goals to reduce carbon pollution. For example, states which rely heavily on aging coal and gas-fired power plants would have a greater obligation to reduce carbon emissions than states that already have lower levels of emissions from power plants.
In 2012, 82 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions were carbon dioxide. Power plants are the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, accounting for 38 percent of total emissions. Greenhouse gases contribute to climate change, which has significant impacts on public health through heat waves, drought, smog, and increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. The World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 people die each year from climate change catastrophes, such as wildfires, degraded air quality, intense storms, flooding, drought, and harm to water resources and food supply.
The proposal could also lead to significant reductions in chronic diseases caused by air pollution. The EPA estimates that the proposed guidelines would result in as many as 150,000 fewer asthma attacks in children, up to 3,300 fewer heart attacks, and up to 6,600 fewer premature deaths by 2030, as illustrated in this infographic from the White House. Carbon is not the main culprit in air pollution that contributes to these health effects. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Syracuse University Center for Health and the Global Environment found that limiting carbon from existing plants would reduce emissions of co-contaminants like sulfur dioxide and mercury by up to 27 percent and nitrogen oxide by up to 22 percent by 2020. These co-contaminants are extremely harmful to human health. In addition to benefits to human health, the improvements in air quality would have also have important environmental impacts with reductions in acid rain, ozone damage to trees and crops, and the accumulation of mercury in fish. 
Power plant emissions and other types of pollution do not respect geographic boundaries. Local health departments work everyday to mitigate the effects of pollution that often originate from other states or regions. For example, the Elk River chemical spill affected nine different counties in West Virginia and made a strong case for better regulation of industrial pollution.  The new EPA proposal would build on the existing Cross-State Air Pollution Rule  that requires 27 states to reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and fine particle emissions from power plants by also regulating carbon emissions and requiring all 50 states to regulate emissions. Local health departments are also charged with protecting the health of the whole community including vulnerable populations, such as minorities, seniors, children, and those with underlying health conditions, that may be disproportionally effected by air pollution. For example, African Americans are more likely to die or be hospitalized from asthma, half of all asthma hospitalizations are children, and 80 percent of Latinos live in areas that fail to meet national standards for air pollutants. 
How will the new regulations affect your local health department? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.