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GHGs, Health, and the Power of Ordinary People

4 years ago | Mar 28, 2016
By: Heartland Voices: Jennifer Byer, True Blue Women
Heartland Voices is a blog series where CEP friends and partners chime in on important issues. Each blog answers the same three questions regarding energy, the environment, and a vision for the future.

Jennifer Byer is a board member of True Blue Women and chair of their Environment Committee.  As a parent of two sons with asthma, Jennifer is passionate about the air quality-health connection and the urgent need to reduce polluting emissions by expanding clean, renewable energy in our state and implementing energy efficiency and conservation programs. Jennifer coordinates a neighborhood food composting pilot program and collection events for e-waste and household hazardous waste.  Jennifer also educates the public about the environmental impacts of bottled water and single-use plastics.  

What are you excited about in energy/environment?
I'm most encouraged by the influence that ordinary people wield when we step up and advocate for environmental policies that benefit the health and economic well-being of families. A state legislator once told me that ten letters from constituents can change a vote. Members of True Blue Women have gathered numerous times to write letters over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. It's important.  The denial of the Holcomb air quality permit is a great example of the collective power of everyday people to influence decision-making. Construction of that plant seemed all but certain, but folks showed up, wrote letters and made phone calls. The project was stalled and now appears to be drawing its last breath.  On a larger scale, rejection of the Keystone pipeline and the historic Paris Climate Accords reflect the will of the thousands who stood up and demanded action that will help protect our planet.

Currently, progress at the state level has been stymied by repeal of Renewable Portfolio Standards, foot-dragging on the Clean Power Plan, skepticism about climate change and skewed economic views. These are temporary roadblocks. When we elect more responsible leadership, the voices of ordinary people will prevail. 

What are you concerned about in energy/environment?
The lack of awareness of and interest in the health impacts of fossil fuel burning. Not only do polluting emissions drive climate change, but they also have an immediate and direct impact on respiratory health. Both of my sons grew up with serious respiratory issues exacerbated by poor air quality in the form of ozone pollution. Unhealthy ozone levels meant staying indoors or risking a severe asthma attack. It's imperative that legislators and policymakers understand this correlation.  If health considerations alone aren't sufficient motivation to expand clean energy and energy efficiency, then perhaps economic data will garner some attention. Estimates of the annual costs of asthma in the U.S., both direct (e.g. medications) and indirect (e.g. missed work) range between $12.7 and $19.7 billion per year. 

Think big: What do you hope to see in the future?
I hope to see a dramatic reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants and a resulting decrease in respiratory illness. Kansas will embrace its role in this process by expanding clean energy in all its forms. Commercial and residential energy efficiency and conservation measures will be the norm. 

I live in Johnson County - a sprawling, car-centric collection of suburban cities. My dream is a comprehensive, metro-wide public transit system, which will go a long way toward reducing vehicle emissions - another driver of respiratory illness and climate change.

Finally, all Kansans will recognize the value of clean water and its connection to energy consumption. Conservation and protection of this resource will be an everyday practice.

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