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Congressman Mike Quigley

Representing the 5th District of Illinois

Time to Act on Climate Change

Sep 17, 2015

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05) urged his colleagues on the House floor to act on climate change now in order to protect public health.

Below is a video and transcript of the speech. 

Mr. Speaker,

There was a time when climate change was a concern for future generations.

A time when we focused on predicting the possible problems and brainstorming the possible solutions.

A time when the threat was real but we still had time to act. We had not come face to face with our tipping point.

That time has passed.  

President Obama put it best when he said, “We are the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change, and the last generation that can still do something about it.”

The time to act is now and the call to action cannot be any clearer.

Despite the fact that more than twelve thousand peer- reviewed scientific studies are in agreement – that climate change is real and humans are significantly to blame – my colleagues continue to debate its validity.

Well, if the devastating global and environmental threats aren’t proof enough, let me share some of the negative impacts climate change is having on our air quality and public health now.

Simply put, climate change and air pollution make a dangerous pair.

In fact, air pollution is among the most serious, indirect health effects of global climate change.

The same power plants that release harmful carbon dioxide in to our atmosphere also create dangerous levels of soot, smog, and ground level ozone.

The result is a combination of ozone and fine particles that can have devastating health impacts.

In all, 147 million people in the U.S. – nearly half of this nation, our nation – are breathing unhealthy air.

And the news is far worse in Beijing, where a new study claims that the air is so polluted, breathing it does as much damage to our lungs as smoking 40 cigarettes a day.

That is unacceptable.

To make matters worse, the warmer temperatures from climate change are only increasing the frequency of days with unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone.

If emissions of air pollutants remain fixed at today’s levels until 2050, warming from climate change alone could increase the number of Red Ozone Alert Days by 68 percent in the 50 largest eastern U.S. cities.

Studies have also linked breathing in ozone pollution to an increased risk of premature deaths and difficulty breathing.

If there are no changes in regulatory controls, the CDC predicts up to 4,300 additional premature deaths in the United States by the year 2050 from combined ozone and particle health effects.

The good news is that air quality has improved dramatically in many American cities over the past 40 years due to the Clean Air Act.

The Clean Air Act has a track record of cutting dangerous pollution and has prevented more than 400,000 premature deaths.

In fact, it has helped to cut ground-level ozone by more than 25 percent since 1980, and reduced mercury emissions by 45 percent since 1990.

If that isn’t enough, the economic value of these improvements is estimated to reach almost $2 trillion by the year 2020.

The recently announced Clean Power Plan offers us the opportunity we need to continue to better protect public health.

It is projected to contribute to significant ozone pollution reductions, resulting in important benefits including avoiding up to 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks in children, and 1,700 heart attacks.

However, the continued effects of climate change and our inability to act are impairing our continued progress.

Climate change is creating conditions that make it harder for us to clean up our air and reduce pollution.

Without addressing one problem, we are limiting our progress on another.

Unfortunately members of this body use every opportunity possible to attack the Clean Air Act and now the Clean Power Plan. These unprecedented assaults block, weaken, or delay a host of long overdue Clean Air safeguards.

As my colleagues continue to stand in our way we are harming the environment and ultimately hurting ourselves.

Climate change is a direct threat to humanity and it’s time we re-examine how we think about it, talk about it, and respond to this growing problem.

We may be part of the problem, but we also have the unique opportunity to become part of the solution.

Pope Francis put it best when he said, “Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”

I urge my colleagues to heed these words and make a choice to act on climate change to protect our health.

We cannot afford to wait any longer.

Thank you.