Underwood seeks to mitigate health effects of climate change

Chronicle Media

Lauren Underwood

U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-14th) has introduced legislation to reinstate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Climate and Health Program.

Until last year, the CDC’s Climate and Health Program was the agency’s only office dedicated to helping state and local governments prepare for the public health consequences of climate change. Underwood said that the Trump administration has weakened the program by moving it into another office and eliminating funding for it in budget requests for the past three years.

Underwood’s legislation, the Climate and Health Protection Act (House Resolution 3819) would re-establish the Climate and Health Program and provide additional funding to strengthen the program and help local communities address and mitigate the public health effects of climate change.

Congresswoman Donna Shalala (D-FL) is also a co-sponsor of the legislation.

“Despite the administration’s efforts to undermine the impacts of climate change, we cannot ignore the serious environmental, economic and public health risks that pose a grave threat to all of us,” Underwood said. “We have already begun to see the devastating impacts of climate change as farmers navigate increasingly difficult planting conditions and as heavy rainfall has caused record-level flooding across the Midwest.

“It is essential that Congress works to support and protect programs like the Climate and Health Program to continue to address emerging health threats brought on by climate change.”

Underwood’s legislation would:

  • Amend the Public Health Service Act to explicitly authorize the Climate and Health Program.
  • Codify the program’s core functions: translate climate change science to inform states, local health departments, and communities; create decision support tools to build capacity to prepare for climate change; and serve as a leader in planning for public health impacts of climate change.
  • Authorize $15 million in annual appropriations.
  • Prohibit the transfer of funds or reprogramming.

In June, Underwood introduced an amendment to the 2020 Agriculture appropriations bill that would prevent federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture from removing existing public information about climate change. Underwood’s amendment was included in the House appropriations package for fiscal year 2020.

The League of Conservation Voters, Environmental Defense Action Fund, Union of Concerned Scientists and Natural Resources Defense Council support Underwood’s legislation.

“Almost daily we are seeing climate change-fueled catastrophes across the country, and they are harming low-income communities and communities of color first and worst,” said Matthew Davis, legislative director of the League of Conservation Voters. “Climate change poses grave threats to public health beyond the flooding, storms, and wildfires, too: increased number of bad air days, heat stress and stroke, worsening allergies, ubiquitous Lyme disease, and new vector-borne diseases, among others.

“LCV applauds Representative Underwood for introducing this bill to re-establish the Climate and Health Program at CDC so that states and communities have support in protecting the health of their residents from this growing threat.”

“As we continue to experience the health impacts associated with climate change, our communities need to find ways to be resilient in the face of these persistent dangers,” said Elizabeth Gore, EDF Action senior vice president. “The Climate and Health Program within the CDC was an important tool to help communities find options to address the health risks posed by unchecked greenhouse gas emissions; we need to re-create that important effort to help our kids and our communities. While it is imperative that we begin searching for long-term solutions for the climate crisis, additional resources to meet today’s needs are absolutely critical. We greatly appreciate Representative Underwood’s efforts to support the communities feeling the sting of climate change most directly.”