Ahead of power plant push, Obama ties climate change to health hazards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama kicked off a campaign to promote new restrictions on U.S. power plant emissions on Saturday by tying the fight against climate change with efforts to promote better health for children and the elderly.

U.S. President Barack Obama announces the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Veteran Affairs Eric Shinseki after meeting with Shinseki at the White House in Washington, May 30, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

In his weekly radio address, Obama said the United States had to do more to reduce carbon emissions so that children suffering from asthma and other related ailments did not face further problems as a result of polluted air.

His argument was a preview of the case that his administration will make in the coming weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday unveils new rules limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing U.S. power plants across the country.

Although the rules are intended to help Washington meet international obligations to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming, the White House’s focus on human health benefits is part of a sales pitch to drum up support from the American public.

Obama recorded his address at a medical center in Washington, where children with asthma were treated.

“Often, these illnesses are aggravated by air pollution, pollution from the same sources that release carbon and contribute to climate change,” he said. “And for the sake of all our kids, we’ve got to do more to reduce it.”

Obama noted that roughly 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions stemmed from power plants that previously faced no restrictions.

“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,” he said. “It’s not smart, it’s not safe, and it doesn’t make sense.”

Fighting climate change could become one of the top domestic policy achievements of the president’s second term and getting public support is critical as the White House prepares for an onslaught of criticism from industry and Republicans.

“Now, special interests and their allies in Congress will claim that these guidelines will kill jobs and crush the economy. Let’s face it, that’s what they always say,” Obama said, noting that such “cynics” were consistently wrong.

“They warned that doing something about the smog choking our cities, and acid rain poisoning our lakes, would kill business. It didn’t. Our air got cleaner, acid rain was cut dramatically and our economy kept growing.”

Obama said the new guidelines would reduce smog and soot that threaten vulnerable populations such as the young and the aged and he said up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks would be avoided in the first year the standards went into force.

Obama, who departs Washington for a trip to Europe on Monday, will not be present for the unveiling of the proposed rules by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

The radio address, recorded on Friday, was designed to put his stamp on the rules before her official announcement.

Editing by Matt Driskill