Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, joined by Reps. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Doris Matsui of California and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, on Friday introduced legislation to improve the nation’s public health response to climate change.

The Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion Act would address the negative health effects related to climate change by supporting research, surveillance, planning, and interagency coordination to develop national plan for action.

The bill was first introduced in the 110th Congress and was incorporated into the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which passed the House of Representatives in 2009, but did not become law.

“One of the most troubling and immediate impacts of climate change is its harmful effects on public health,” Capps said. “Regardless of what one believes about its causes, climate change is very real. The heat waves, droughts, wildfires and extreme weather events that are happening with greater frequency and intensity have a profound impact on public health that we’re only beginning to understand. We have to provide our public health officials with the tools and resources they need to effectively track and prepare for these significant public health challenges.”

Climate change is a concern for public health agencies and is considered to be a significant factor in recent increases in allergies, asthma and other respiratory illnesses; emerging tropical diseases; life-threatening temperatures; and drought and food shortages. While public health officials recognize the negative impacts of climate change, few have adequate resources to address the problem, according to a national survey conducted in 2008 by Environmental Defense Fund, the National Association of County and City Health Officials and George Mason University.

“Public health officials play a pivotal role in addressing the unique health challenges of climate change in communities across the country; however, too many health departments lack the resources to do so,” said Georges Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E), executive director of the American Public Health Association. “The bill introduced today would enhance their capacity and send a true lifeline to populations most vulnerable to the health effects of climate change, including people living in poverty, the elderly and young children. We are grateful to Rep. Capps for her leadership on this urgently needed public health issue.”

“The American Lung Association is proud to support Representative Lois Capps’ Climate Change Health Promotion and Protection Act,” said Paul Billings, senior vice president of advocacy and education for the American Lung Association. “There is no denying that climate change is a serious threat to human health. Higher temperatures will make it harder for the nation to clean up ozone and particulate matter, which is bad news for anyone with lung disease, the very young or old and those who work or spend significant time outdoors. Elevated levels of smog and soot mean more childhood asthma attacks.”

Capps’ legislation would help improve the public health response to the challenges posed by climate change by directing the secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a National Strategic Action Plan to assist health professionals in preparing for and responding to the public health effects of climate change.

It would also authorize the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research the health effects of climate change and health implications of potential greenhouse gas reduction strategies, as well as bolster climate change preparedness planning around the country. This includes:

» Providing technical support to state and local health departments to develop preparedness plans and conduct community outreach.

» Developing training programs for public health professionals on the health risks and interventions related to climate change.

» Enhancing domestic and international tracking capacity for infectious diseases and environmental health indicators.

» Developing a coordinated research and preparedness agenda on climate and health.

— Ashley Schapitl is press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.