Our Turn: Commission on emissions working for healthier future

Published: 8/5/2020 6:00:28 AM

New Hampshire’s businesses, municipalities, public health and health care professionals are increasingly aware of and concerned with the public health effects of our changing climate.

An overwhelming body of evidence points to human activities such as using fossil fuels for transportation, heating of buildings, and producing electricity as a primary driver of a changing climate and observed trends that lead to direct and indirect adverse public health outcomes.

The direct public health effects associated with increased emissions are a primary and immediate concern. These include respiratory illnesses, higher incidences of asthma, and other health conditions. It is critical to note that the health effects of these harmful emissions have been, and will continue to be, disproportionately experienced by children, the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions, and other marginalized individuals in our communities.

Recent research from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health has also shown that the majority of pre-existing conditions that increase the risk of death for COVID-19 are the same diseases that are affected by long-term exposure to air pollution. In addition, it has shown even a small increase in exposure to fine particulate matter has led to an increase in COVID-19 related death. It should also be noted that studies have shown that non-white populations, especially African Americans, face higher risks from particulate pollution. This racial disparity has been sadly demonstrated in the higher death rates among people of color for COVID-19.

For these reasons and many others, we have decided, along with a number of other stakeholders, to participate in an ad hoc commission that is tasked with developing a report to identify science-based emissions reduction goals for our state.

In conjunction with state agencies, legislators, municipalities, utilities, environmental organizations, businesses, industry groups, public health organizations, and other important stakeholders, this commission aims to bring science-based findings to the Legislature in the hopes of providing an opportunity for a critically needed dialogue, planning process, and state level guidance.

The commission has also been tasked with creating interim goals for emission reductions and the processes and timelines for developing implementation plans. We will also work to identify the state agencies responsible, including a lead agency, for developing, implementing and reporting on the emission reduction levels identified, as well as public health outcomes.

This commission will begin meeting this summer, with the first meeting being on Thursday, Aug. 6, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. All meetings will be done online remotely. Other interested stakeholders and the public at large will be able to listen in and participate in these meetings as well as submit comments and review presented materials. More information and a complete list of commission members, meeting dates and public comment submission can be found online at NHEmissionCommission.com.

With appropriate planning and state-level goal setting, businesses, individuals, and municipalities can have the confidence to make the long-term investments, plans, and decisions needed to improve our state’s environmental and public health.

When we respectfully work together, there is no challenge too big for New Hampshire. We encourage all to follow along and contribute to this process so that a true Granite State solution can be brought forward that allows us to reduce emissions, improve public health, and maintain our New Hampshire advantage.

(Joan Ascheim is the executive director of the New Hampshire Public Health Association. David Worthen is the CEO of Worthen Industries in Nashua.)

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