Broken Record: EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Plays the Asthma Card

by Marlo Lewis on June 2, 2014

in Blog

In her speech today announcing EPA’s plan to cut power-sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said agency critics who warn of dire economic impacts “sound like a broken record.” But what is more repetitive — or more misleading — than trying to sell EPA’s power grab as a childhood asthma remedy?

McCarthy began her speech as follows:

About a month ago, I took a trip to the Cleveland Clinic. I met a lot of great people, but one stood out—even if he needed to stand on a chair to do it. Parker Frey is 10 years old. He’s struggled with severe asthma all his life. His mom said despite his challenges, Parker’s a tough, active kid—and a stellar hockey player.
But sometimes, she says, the air is too dangerous for him to play outside. In the United States of America, no parent should ever have that worry. . . .Rising temperatures bring more smog, more asthma, and longer allergy seasons. If your kid doesn’t use an inhaler, consider yourself a lucky parent, because 1 in 10 children in the U.S. suffers from asthma.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 11 children in the U.S. had asthma in 2010. That is a remarkable fact. I had severe asthma as a child, so was sensitized to the issue. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school, lots of other kids knew I had asthma — because hardly anyone else had it. In six years of summer camp in the New Hampshire woods, I had frequent asthma attacks — and was the only camper so afflicted. That was in the 1960s.

What happened since then? For one thing, childhood asthma rates increased dramatically. But during the same period, the air got dramatically cleaner.


Source: EPA

Yes, heat is a factor in turning ozone precursors into smog. But despite global warming — and, perhaps more importantly, the expansion of urban heat islands — urban air quality keeps improving. So whatever has increased childhood asthma rates, it’s not outdoor air pollution or whatever small increment of it might be attributable to global warming.

McCarthy calls carbon dioxide (CO2) “carbon pollution” no fewer than 11 times in her speech, once in the context of a guilt-by-association with other alleged causes of Parker Frey’s asthma:

If your kid doesn’t use an inhaler, consider yourself a lucky parent, because 1 in 10 children in the U.S. suffers from asthma. Carbon pollution from power plants comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide, putting our families at even more risk.

For the record, CO2 is not a lung irritant and does not contribute to respiratory problems. As noted in a previous post:

Carbon dioxide emissions neither cause nor aggravate childhood asthma. In fact, nowadays, not even bona fide air pollution is a major factor in asthma. As Joel Schwartz and Steven Hayward document in Air Quality in America (chapter 7), asthma rates have risen even as air pollution levels have declined, and hospital visits for asthma are lowest in July and August, when air temperatures and ozone levels are highest.

One can only speculate as to why asthma rates have gone up as air pollution has gone down. It may partly be an unintended consequence of the energy-efficiency crusade (which these days is inseparable from the global-warming crusade). A leading way to make homes more energy-efficient is to “seal” the “envelope” or “building shell”  to prevent outside air from leaking into the house and inside air from leaking out. A well-sealed home, however, might also be described as a poorly-ventilated home, a domicile that concentrates indoor air pollution. Indoor allergens such as roach feces and saliva can cause or contribute to asthma, as EPA acknowledges.

Although there’s no discernible connection between power plant CO2 emissions and childhood asthma, it’s obvious why McCarthy and other coal-bashers play the asthma card. Thanks to the 17.5-year warming pause and the growing mismatch between climate models and reality, they find it increasingly difficult to sell their agenda as, well, climate policy.

Childhood asthma is also a red herring. Talking about kids like Parker Frey diverts public attention from the core issues: (1) the illegality of EPA’s new source carbon rule, the prerequisite to today’s action; (2) the carbon rules’ eerie resemblance to the muddle of market-rigging policies rejected by Congress when the public turned against the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill; (3) EPA’s mutation into a separation-of-powers stomping Super Legislature (the carbon rules would be dead on arrival if submitted as legislation to Congress); and (4) the costly futility of forcing Americans to use less carbon-based energy before commercially-viable substitutes exist.


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