Clean Energy Leads to Clean Air for California

An Associate Professor in residence at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and a volunteer physician for the American Lung Association in California.

The Los Angeles region is home to some of the worst air quality in the country. During the long, hot days of summer, Angelenos face continued unhealthy air days. It’s not just a problem for our region. Ninety percent of Californians live in areas that experience poor air quality at some point during the year. That cannot continue.

The American Lung Association’s State of the Air Report 2017 showed that California cities are among the most polluted in the country. Nearly every Californian is affected by poor air quality. Millions of individuals, especially in the Los Angeles region, face even worse conditions because they live near aging power plants, diesel engines, ports and freeways that spew dangerous emissions. Increasing clean, renewable energy and increasing the transition to zero emission vehicles would help reduce those emissions.

As a physician in the Los Angeles region, I see the toll that our dirty air has taken on residents, especially children and communities of color. In Los Angeles County alone, there are more than 750,000 children and adults dealing with asthma, with greater burdens felt in communities of color. This group is especially vulnerable to poor air quality caused by power plant emissions, freight traffic and more local sources which can increase the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. We can change that by changing the way we produce and use power.

We all use electricity every day, that’s a fact. But we don’t always think about its true costs. Fossil-fueled power generation contributes to ozone pollution and particle pollution, both of which have a significant impact on our air quality and public health. That pollution results in higher asthma rates, lung cancer, hospitalizations and even early death.

Beyond the air quality issues, these plants are considered the biggest driver of climate change. Power plants and energy production remain the largest stationary source of carbon pollution in the United States. Power production makes up about 20 percent of greenhouse gases generated in California and 30 percent nationally. As they spew out carbon and methane, they contribute to warmer temperatures that lead to increased wildfires, floods, extreme heat and more, all of which have a negative impact on our collective health.

These burdens to our air and our environment aren’t shared equally. Our most disadvantaged communities bear the brunt of fossil fuels. From extraction to transportation to burning of fossil fuels, low income communities and communities of color are often impacted the most. As our climate and clean air policies move forward, we need to recognize that inequity and do more to shape our policies and our investments to make the most impact.

To get to clean air for everyone in California we have to step up our efforts to move away from fossil fuel based energy. California has already been a leader by adopting the first renewable fuel standards, and now we must double down. Senate Bill 100, the California Clean Energy Act of 2017, authored by Senator Kevin de Leon, would put us on the right track by establishing a new state goal to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

This is an incredibly bold and ambitious strategy, but California is up for the challenge. Our state has already shown successes in clean renewable energy including wind, solar, and geothermal. As California pushes for more electric vehicles on the road, we should have the low-carbon energy infrastructure to ensure that we’re using clean renewable energy across all sectors. In fact, 2016 research by the Lung Association found health and climate benefits running into the billions of dollars by shifting to zero emission vehicles running on renewable power.

For the good of public health and our environment, I urge local leaders and residents to strongly support SB 100 to step up California’s drive to clean, renewable energy. Setting a path for 100 percent renewable energy means cleaner air, reduced cases of asthma and other lung diseases. It means a cleaner, brighter future for our children and generations to come.

Michael Ong, MD, PhD, is an associate professor in residence at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and a volunteer physician for the American Lung Association in California.

Share this article: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Comment on this article


Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.