The top environmental official in the Obama administration says a new report predicting catastrophic consequences from climate change bolsters the finding that greenhouse gases are a harmful pollutant.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said Monday that a new White House report reinforced the agency's 2009 finding that greenhouse gases threaten public health. That endangerment finding is part of the basis for the Clean Power Plan, President Obama's signature environmental regulation on new and existing coal power plants.
The Clean Power Plan is under legal siege, with 30 states and many business groups suing to block the rule. The Supreme Court has stayed it until the legal challenges are completed. McCarthy said she hoped the court kept the new report in mind when deciding on the rule.
"It does underscore it. It's just building on the wealth of evidence we have here," McCarthy said of the dangers that could come from greenhouse gas pollution.
Many scientists blame the burning of fossil fuels and the subsequent release of greenhouse gases for driving climate change and the warming of the planet.
"The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment," released Monday afternoon, predicted many ways that climate change could kill people in the future.
Air pollution, allergens, extreme heat and cold, increased risk of various diseases, less food safety, more wildfires and harsher storms were among the environmental consequences of climate change. In addition, it could have psychological effects ranging from slight stress to suicidal thoughts due to the trauma of the various environmental disasters that could come from climate change.
The report predicted increased rates of premature deaths and increased sickness and disease among a wide swath of the public.
McCarthy said the report might not make for a sunny outlook, but it's information that's necessary for parents and policymakers alike.
"This is the first time in history we're able to look at this and say it's not about polar bears and melting ice caps," she said. "It's about our kids, it's about our families, it's about our future."
McCarthy was speaking at a White House gathering to discuss the report with several other administration officials and Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, who was billed as the congressional expert — a term he called an "oxymoron."
In between a few cracks at the Republican president front-runner — "Climate change is a lot like Donald Trump: When we underestimate it, it gets worse" and "The only thing the Republican Party is better at denying than Donald Trump's popularity is climate change" were two of his laugh lines — Markey said the report represented the harsh reality of climate change's impact.
"The health effects of climate change are much broader than we thought," he said. "More children with asthma, more deaths of the elderly due to increase heat."
"We have to do more and we have to do it fast," he added.
Among the more troublesome predictions in the report is that waterborne illnesses might increase and become deadlier in the future.
Juli Trtanj, the director of the Oceans and Human Health Initiative at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said heavier rains and other severe weather could end up overwhelming water infrastructure in many aging cities.
She said that could cause water main breaks or other failings that allow bacteria to get into drinking water. If more pathogens are introduced to the water supply, that could quickly turn deadly, she said.
"It's a cascade of things we're looking at here, which can lead to an increased risk of exposure," Trtanj said.