— Alex Trope, MD, MSC
February 28, 2018

Listening session for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to repeal the Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units (aka “Clean Power Plan”). 

My name is Alex Trope and I am a resident-physician in training at the UCSF Department of Psychiatry. I am here as a mental health provider, a concerned citizen, and a hopeful future father considering bringing children into this world with my wife, Lee Trope, who is a pediatrician at Stanford. Like so many others here, I firmly reject the current EPA Administrator’s proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan on the grounds that this proposal endangers human health and goes against the EPA’s statutory responsibility laid out in Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act; namely, that the Administrator establish emission guidelines for our nation’s power plants that create pollution reductions that are achievable using the “best system of emission reduction.”

The Clean Power Plan, and its central regulatory requirement setting carbon dioxide limits on each coal and gas-fired plant, does just this, and furthermore, allows power producers a flexible combination of measures to meet these targets, either by adding clean energy technology, switching fuel sources, or using emission credits generated by other plants. As a physician tasked with considering the effects of brain health on psychological functioning, I know that the small particulate matter released alongside carbon dioxide by fossil-fueled power plants gets into our lungs, then into our blood, and eventually into our brains. Research is revealing how this particulate matter can contribute to a range of neurological and psychiatric conditions, along with its well-studied effects on cardiovascular health. 

The power generation sector is different than other industries because it must function as an interconnected whole through the electric grid, supplying specific amounts of electricity demanded by end-users across the grid from moment to moment. The brain is an entity that similarly must function moment-by-moment as an interconnected whole through electrochemical signaling to produce a range of states that we come to know as joy or sadness. It brings me joy to see that the abdication of the EPA’s explicit assignment to protect of our citizens by the current Administrator is being met with a firm show of citizens around the country. There is a degree of sadness however in having to advocate to protect our lungs, blood and brain from fossil fuel pollution and to protect our future from runaway climate change, instead of having the EPA as an ally in showing the world that America can still rise to the occasion and push back existential threats as we did in the World Wars and the Cold War. Power plants and electric grids create and share electrons, simple as that, and they must do so with “best system of emission reduction” we have available, which the Clean Power Plan clearly lays out. To have our electricity system work against the far more complex grid of neurons and other cells we call our brain, which creates and allow us to share in experiences of joy or sadness, is choosing to favor an outdated mode of energy production over our most precious human possession.