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Residents dealt legal setback that will have a lasting impact on public health: 'These numbers are all people'

The delay has resulted in up to 160 preventable premature deaths.

The delay has resulted in up to 160 preventable premature deaths.

Photo Credit: iStock

Pennsylvania residents awaiting news on a crucial environmental legal battle might want to continue holding their breath — in more ways than one.

What's happening?

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court dealt a blow to the state's efforts to combat rising global temperatures by ruling against its participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). 

After a nearly two-year-long legal battle, this decision only adds more obstacles to Pennsylvania's plans for limiting carbon dioxide pollution created by power plants. 

According to Environmental Health News (EHN), joining RGGI was initially approved by the state's Environmental Quality Board and signed into law by former Governor Tom Wolf in 2021. 

However, the initiative faced opposition from those who believed the decision to enter RGGI should be made by the legislature instead of executive orders, framing it as a threat to jobs and an additional financial burden on consumers. 

Why is this ruling concerning?

Pennsylvania's failure to join RGGI not only detracts from the earth's well-being but also worsens public health costs.

"Pennsylvania is missing out on both these health benefits, and also the economic savings from avoidance of these cases, which can be very costly," said Frederica Perera, an environmental health sciences professor at Columbia University.

The delay has resulted in up to 160 preventable premature deaths from air pollution, 117 hospitalizations, and over 300 cases in children related to asthma and acute bronchitis, according to EHN, based on projections by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

"These numbers all make a really strong case for RGGI, but it's important to remember that these numbers are all people," stated Ashleigh Deemer, director of PennEnvironment, an environmental advocacy group that has continuously supported the advancement of RGGI.

RGGI-participating states, which have successfully reduced carbon pollution by 47%, according to a report by the nonprofit Acadia Center, demonstrate the effectiveness of the initiative, and the delay only prolongs the state's struggle against the health impacts of air pollution.

Pennsylvania's participation in RGGI had been projected to result in fewer health cases involving asthma, bronchitis, and hospital admissions, and public health benefits totaling up to $6.3 billion by 2030, reports the state's Department of Environmental Protection.

What's being done about it?

Despite the setback, environmental groups are advocating for the ruling to be appealed by emphasizing the urgency of addressing Earth's rising temperatures and reducing pollution to protect the health of the public and our planet. 

The entirety of the situation reflects the ongoing struggle between those advocating for climate action and those with vested interests going against initiatives that could bring meaningful change to the status quo.

As the legal battle continues, it is crucial for individuals to show support for climate-friendly policies, take local action, and vote for politicians who understand the climate crises.

Pennsylvania's decision on RGGI will not only impact its own environmental standards, but it will also contribute to the larger conversation on rising global temperatures and the actions needed to combat it.

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