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Obama and EPA Release Historic Carbon Reduction Plan to Fight Climate Change

Climate

For the first time in U.S. history, an administration has proposed rules to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from existing power plants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed that existing plants reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent—compared to 2005 levels—by 2030. Coal-fired power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of the country's emissions and collectively constitute the nation's single-largest source of greenhouse gas pollution.

If reached, that goal would represent "net climate and health benefits" of $48 billion to $82 billion, according to the EPA's 645-page document. Despite that reduction, coal and natural gas would still remain the country's top two sources of energy, combining for more than 60 percent of the grid, the EPA projects.

Existing power plants are the target of the EPA's carbon regulation proposal.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Though the carbon rule represents a monumental moment many environmentalists have been awaiting, it remains a proposal until June 2015, when the open period for revisions and public comment ends. Still, optimism arose Monday for the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's climate action plan.

"The President promised he would act to tackle the climate crisis and protect the health of our children and grandchildren—and he is keeping his word," Michael Brune, executive director of the 2.4 million-member Sierra Club said prior to the rules' unveiling. "These aren’t just the first-ever protections to clean up carbon pollution from power plants, they represent the largest single step any President has ever taken to fight climate disruption."

Emissions dropped by about 10 percent from 2005 to 2012, which is a "good start" when coupled with advances in renewable energy and efficiency programs, Obama said. Still, the rules are needed for the country to do its part in curbing climate change, scientists have warned about for years.

"Right now, there are no national limits to the amount of carbon pollution that existing plants can pump into the air we breathe—none," Obama said in his national address Saturday. "We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury, sulfur and arsenic that power plants put in our air and water. But they can dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air.

"It’s not smart, it’s not safe, and it doesn’t make sense."

The EPA believes researchers and developers, as well as individual cities and states, have shown that the 30-percent target is achievable because current innovations in electricity and sustainability. Just last week the solar energy sector celebrated dominating the first quarter of 2014 with 74 percent of all new energy capacity.

“This is a critical first step toward the U.S. meeting its obligations as a good global citizen to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dr. Michael E. Mann, an author and director of Penn State University's Earth System Science Center.

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said the proposal an opportunity for the nation to continue its increased deployment of renewable energy. 

“When it comes to environmental protection, today is a defining moment in American history," Resch said. "As a nation, we're poised to finally turn the page from sooty smokestacks to sunnier skies—and America’s solar energy industry is uniquely positioned to play a key role in the fight against climate change.

“At their very heart, the proposed new EPA regulations provide a common sense and flexible approach to reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions across the U.S.  They also can serve as a roadmap for future renewable energy policy in America."

The House of Representatives and coal industry are largely expected to push back on the rule, particularly as the November elections approach. While clean energy advocates and legislators who support their cause will argue about the positive impact the rule will have on the air we breathe, opposers will focus on the potential for job losses. Governors in coal-heavy states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Kansas have already directing their state environmental agencies to craft their own carbon emission plans that focus on compliance costs for individual power plants, the Associated Press reported.

Greenpeace USA Climate and Energy Campaign Director Gabe Wisniewski says pushback regarding the rule's potential economic impact from the industry, legislators and lobbyists like the American Legislative Exchange Council is to be expected, though, it will likely make little sense.

"The most successful and innovative businesses in the country are sprinting to adopt efficient, renewable energy," he said in a statement. "Leading technology companies like Apple, Facebook and Google have all committed to power with 100-percent renewable energy, and dozens of other Fortune 500 companies are joining them."

The Hip Hop Caucus, which played a crucial role in inspiring the youth vote in recent elections, also expressed approval of the rule proposal.

"For the civil right generation and the post-civil right generation—named the Hip Hop generation by many—solving climate change is a 21st century civil rights struggle," said Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., the group's president and CEO. "The creation of carbon pollution standards is best for all of America. We must protect all of our citizens—rich and poor, women and men, the elderly and children, those of all races—from health- and life-threatening pollution.

"Carbon pollution standards for existing power plants are about making our country the best it can be."

Some groups were supportive of the proposal, but said it was a little too late and could have done more.

Waterkeeper Alliance is supportive of President Obama’s actions today to cut carbon emissions and protect the environment,” said Donna Lisenby, the organization's global coal campaign coordinator. “The rulemaking comes late in the Obama Presidency and doesn’t go as far as we’d like, but it's welcome news for our nation’s rivers and environment.

"We would have preferred a stronger rulemaking that took effect immediately and required deeper carbon cuts, but this action is welcome news for everyone who respects and appreciates the value of our nation’s threatened waterways and the health of our planet.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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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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."

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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.