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5 Steps Cities Can Take in Preparation of the EPA’s New Carbon Emissions Standards

Climate

Hundreds of mayors convened in Dallas, TX, yesterday for the 82nd annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Climate change was expected to play a prominent role on the meeting’s agenda because these mayors understand that the nation’s cities and towns are the front line of the response to climate change. This meeting comes on the heels of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently unveiled Clean Power Plan, which proposes carbon-pollution limits for the nation’s existing fleet of currently unregulated power plants. What some observers may not appreciate is that mayors can contribute to—and benefit from—plans to cut dangerous carbon pollution.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The EPA proposal is results oriented and highly flexible. It proposes to set a target for each state based on that state’s potential to reduce carbon pollution. This means that states can tailor their federal carbon-pollution plans to align with state priorities. It also means that everything a city does to cut pollution will help its state meet the target.

Cities have every reason to want to cut pollution. First, reducing carbon pollution will deliver air quality benefits that will help prevent asthma attacks and other illnesses. The EPA estimates that its proposal will avoid 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children. Second, cutting carbon pollution will help minimize the impact of climate change and associated extreme weather events. After an extreme weather event, mayors and their cities are directly accountable for fixing physical damage, mitigating job losses and building more weather-resilient structures. These extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent or more intense in the coming years due to human-induced climate change, according to the EPA. Between 2011 and 2013, the U.S. experienced more than $208 billion in damage from the most severe weather events alone. Reducing the impact of these extreme weather events is in the best interest of cities and their residents.

Cities have the opportunity to adopt policies that help states achieve the proposed EPA carbon-pollution standards and prevent the worst effects of climate change. Five examples of these policies are outlined below.

1. Reduce the Carbon Impact of Municipal Utilities

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan regulates carbon pollution that stems from electric power plants. As states examine the large-scale electricity generators that serve an entire state or region, cities should determine if their municipal-owned electric utilities could help their state meet its goal. As of 2012, 803 cities and counties had municipal electric utilities. Of these, 298 generate their own electricity, 182 transmit electricity and 772 manage distribution. Some municipal utility districts are members of rural electric cooperatives, which pool resources for a shared benefit.

All of these relationships present opportunities for municipalities to help states meet their carbon-pollution standards by advocating for clean energy policies. Mayors and city councils can set renewable energy targets, increase support for solar power, promote energy-efficiency programs to lower energy consumption and emphasize cleaner fossil fuels for electricity production.

2. Update Building Energy Codes

The EPA cites energy efficiency as one of the four “building blocks” that states should use to meet a carbon-pollution standard. Since buildings can account for up to 40 percent of energy use, addressing building energy efficiency is essential to reducing carbon pollution and energy costs. Cities can help states achieve energy-efficiency goals by updating building codes for municipal, residential and/or commercial buildings to encourage development of energy-efficient technology, reflect best practices of the energy industry, and reduce energy costs, all while helping states implement the Clean Power Plan.

Mayors can follow the lead of cities ranging from New York City to Amarillo, TX, which have developed their own energy-conservation construction codes, or adopt consensus-based standards developed with energy experts. The International Code Council’s 2012 standards, which have already been adopted by 21 states and some localities, can serve as a guideline. Additionally, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) serves as the national model energy code for the U.S. and is another resource available to cities. If cities have failed to adopt or update building energy-efficiency codes, they have a big opportunity to do so now: the 2012 IECC code is 30 percent more efficient than the 2006 version.

3. Promote Distributed Generation of Renewable Energy

Distributed generation, or DG, refers to electricity that is generated close to its point of use. DG can include consumer-owned solar panels or business-owned energy systems that are connected to a local grid. Distributed renewable energy can cut pollution, increase reliability, and avoid the need for costly infrastructure investments. It can also save consumers money by offsetting peak electricity demand. Net metering policies that compensate customers with money or credit when their systems generate more electricity than they use can also complement DG systems.

Mayors with municipal utilities could increase opportunities for DG partnerships. Those without local utility controls could support economic incentives for DG to increase energy reliability, lessen the effects of carbon pollution, and help states meet their carbon standards.

The EPA’s interactive “Where You Live” tool summarizes climate change impacts and state actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Click on the map to access the EPA's information.

4. Consider Tax Credits and Rebates for Renewable Energy

Along with distributed-generation policies that can help states meet their implementation plans, cities should encourage the increased use of renewable energy through credits and tax rebates. Many cities and counties offer rebates for the installation of renewable energy. State law may also permit a city to exempt local property taxes for renewable energy improvements. Alaska, Colorado, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Maryland are just some of the states that offer these incentives to cities. While this will reduce funds from property taxes, cities can appeal to state governments that are benefitting from reduced carbon output for assistance with implementation of tax credits or rebates.

5. Develop Clean Energy Loan Programs

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans are financial tools that help property owners finance energy-efficiency and renewable energy projects for their property. Under a PACE program, a local government helps a home or business finance the initial cost of certain energy improvements. The property owner repays the cost through an assessment on their property tax. The financing is tied to the property, so if the owner sells the property, the financing must be repaid or carried over to the next owner. PACE allows property owners to install renewable energy without a large initial payment and maximizes the cost-benefit ratio for consumers, all while meeting the city or state’s low-carbon goals. PACE seems especially promising for commercial properties.

At least 31 states and the District of Columbia have laws that permit counties or municipalities to institute PACE programs. Connecticut signed PACE legislation in 2012 to help cities establish financing for energy-efficiency and renewable energy projects. Since then, 84 cities and towns have signed up to participate. Last year, it was reported that Connecticut had closed the financing for projects worth $7 million, had more than 100 projects worth an additional $13 million in development, and were monitoring projects with an average worth between $300,000 and $500,000. In Connecticut and elsewhere, PACE has offered increased job opportunities, reduced the need to pay for energy, and helped reduce carbon pollution. Cities should embrace policies such as PACE for many reasons, one of which is the opportunity to help meet state requirements to reduce carbon pollution.

Cities are uniquely suited to help states meet their carbon-reduction targets through municipal energy interests, innovative policies and working with existing state laws to improve efficiency and increase renewable energy generation. Developing low-carbon energy policies underscores the city’s importance to a critical national goal: reduced carbon pollution, increased consumer savings and a healthier future for everyone.

 

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By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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By Jake Johnson

Unity Task Forces formed by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled sweeping party platform recommendations Wednesday that—while falling short of progressive ambitions in a number of areas, from climate to healthcare—were applauded as important steps toward a bold and just policy agenda that matches the severity of the moment.

"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.