Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and U.S. Representative A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) released a discussion draft of legislation to designate climate change as a long-term public health emergency and bolster efforts to address the current and future impacts of climate change on public health.
“I’ve had countless conversations with communities and public health experts throughout Colorado, and time and again I hear that the changing climate is worsening existing health risks and leaving future generations susceptible to new health threats,” said Bennet. “The discussion draft we are releasing today is a first step to empower the health sector to address climate-related threats to public health and health care.”
“Research continues to confirm what residents of communities in Virginia and across the United States already know –– climate change is a public health threat multiplier and communities on the frontlines of our climate crisis suffer disproportionately from the health impacts of our warming planet. It is imperative that we develop a long-term strategy to address the threats posed by climate changes to public health,” said McEachin. “Our discussion draft moves our country one step closer to meeting these challenges, including by advancing federal research, building capacity, and increasing planning in order to protect public health and our public health systems.”
Reports from the U.S. Global Change Research Program and others have highlighted the threat that climate change poses to human health. As one example, rising temperatures worsen ground-level ozone and thereby increase the risk of asthma attacks, hospital visits, and early death. These harmful effects fall disproportionately on children, the elderly, frontline communities, Black, Indigenous, Latino, and other communities of color, and low-income communities.
The proposal includes provisions to:
- Direct the Surgeon General to issue a national “Call to Action” to alert the public about health risks and concerns posed by climate change and highlight the importance of coordinated action.
- Authorize funding to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, state, local, Tribal, territorial, and community-based public health capacity to understand, prepare for, and respond to current and future climate-related health threats.
- Require the Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to appoint or designate an official in the Secretary’s office to develop a department-wide strategic plan to help address the long-term public health emergency posed by climate change without compromising other priorities.
Bennet’s draft legislation is the result of conversations with public health leaders, health care providers, and communities from across Colorado. The legislation also complements Bennet’s work as part of the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. The Committee’s report included a chapter on health and health care.