WPSR President’s Update, February 2015

One of our major strategic priorities for 2015 is to use our voice to support and initiate action on climate change.

A 2014 Gallup poll asked respondents to rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in different fields. Nurses, physicians, and pharmacists had the highest ratings. WPSR members – including physicians, nurses, and other health professionals and public health advocates in WA State – are working to use their trusted voices to argue for evidence-based action on climate change.

WPSR’s Climate Change Task Force – a group of practicing and academic physicians and nurses – seeks to bring attention to climate change as a current personal and public health issue, enlist physicians and other healthcare leaders to speak out on the health impacts of climate change, and provide a medical voice for promoting low-carbon energy sources. To achieve these goals, the task force is working to:

  • expand our speakers bureau of health professionals trained to speak publicly about climate change, energy use, and health;
  • educate more health care professionals about the consequences of climate change and fossil fuel use through physician seminars and medical student education; and
  • engage additional physicians in addressing climate change as a health issue, in part through passage of a resolution to take action against climate change by key organizations such as the Washington State Medical Association.

Connecting to Local Fossil Fuel Issues

At the present time our climate change task force has identified crude oil transport in WA as a major priority. The rapidly increasing volume of crude oil traveling through the state by rail is projected to soon eclipse the maximum daily volume that the Keystone XL pipeline could carry. Interrupting this ‘pipeline on rails’ in the Northwest is one way to incentivize and buy time to develop alternative, low-carbon transportation fuels.

To this end, our task force has extensively researched the medical literature to identify negative health consequences of transporting and storing crude oil. Our research led to WPSR taking an official position against crude oil transport by rail, storage, and shipment by vessel. We are currently soliciting signatures from medical professionals in WA and OR to call for a moratorium on new oil transport and storage projects in both states.

Further, we have taken the unusual stance of focusing on the terminals that receive oil trains, at a time when many of WA’s leading environmental organizations are focused more on train safety and potential derailments. Unlike rail transport, which is regulated at the federal level, terminals are regulated by state and local authorities. If we can block permits for the terminals along the western side of the state that receive and store oil, we can interrupt the ‘pipeline on rails’. Due to the flammable nature of the crude oil being stored, we believe that siting terminals in population centers poses an unacceptable risk to the public health of residents.

We are also calling upon the WA Department of Ecology and Governor Inslee to deny permits for proposed terminals. In our initial meetings with the Governor’s staff, it is clear that our concern about terminals is a new issue for consideration. The health and safety concerns associated with terminals lie outside a traditional environmental impact assessment, giving us a novel tactic for reducing petroleum’s short-term health and safety risks in WA, as well as its long-term implications for climate change.

Our Strategic Priorities

WPSR’s Climate Change Task Force developed and is guided by the following strategic plan:

Goal 1: Establish WPSR as the leading healthcare organization in WA on the health impacts of climate change

  • Objective 1a: Establish a panel of WPSR members available to testify to the legislature and to other elected bodies on climate change and/or coal and oil issues
  • Objective 1b: Enlist physicians and other healthcare professionals in WA and OR to sign our letter on health risks of oil transport and terminals
  • Objective 1c: Develop a presentation focused on the personal and public health consequences of climate change
  • Objective 1d: Meet with Governor Inslee and/or his high-ranking staff to share our climate priorities and express our willingness to support climate change initiatives in WA
  • Objective 1e: Regularly participate in work by WA climate change leaders
  • Objective 1f: As a partner in the West Coast Climate Campaign, publicly support thepassage of ambitious and integrated climate and clean energy policies

Goal 2: Educate and enlist physicians and other healthcare leaders and institutions to speak out on the health impacts of climate change

  • Objective 2a: Present on health consequences of climate change to WA healthcare organizations and providers
  • Objective 2b: Develop collaborative relationships with WA healthcare organizations to advance climate change policies
  • Objective 2c: Present on the health consequences of climate change at hospital Grand Rounds
  • Objective 2d: Support development and implementation of a climate change health impacts curriculum for educators
  • Objective 2e: Enlist student chapters in hosting and/or assisting with 3 or more climate-related presentations and events
  • Objective 2f: Support climate change work at healthcare institutions

Goal 3: Gain public recognition for climate change as both a personal and public health issue

  • Objective 3a: Solicit formal comments from WPSR members in support of the proposed EPA rules (and/or even stronger reduction targets) on carbon emissions from power plants
  • Objective 3b: Present health risks from coal and oil trains and storage/shipping terminals
  • Objective 3c: Publicly oppose the siting of major oil storage and shipment terminals in densely populated or ecologically sensitive settings
  • Objective 3d: Create online and printed literature that communicates critical information about why climate is a public health issue and activities for mitigation and adaptation in WA

Goal 4: Provide medical voice for supporting low-carbon energy sources

  • Objective 4a: Provide free electronic and print resources about low-carbon fuel sources for electricity and transportation, from a health perspective
  • Objective 4b: Voice support for transition off fossil fuels to renewables (i.e., support for wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal over natural gas, coal, and oil)
  • Objective 4c: Continue to oppose nuclear energy as a suitable alternative to fossil fuels, on grounds of major public health and personal medical risks

WPSR Climate Change Task Force Members

The following nine individuals make up WPSR’s Climate Change Task Force:

Bruce Amundson, MD, task force Co-Chair

  • retired family physician
  • WPSR Board President and longtime member of PSR and WPSR
  • experience with establishing sustainable organizations and rural healthcare systems
  • one of four principal investigators on the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Hanford Thyroid Disease Study

Mary Margaret Thomas, RN, MSN, task force Co-Chair

  • environmental and occupational health nurse
  • WPSR Board Secretary
  • involved in clean-up efforts for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf
  • active in Health Care without Harm; served as Co-Chair of their Nurses Work Group (NWG)

Phyllis Eide, PhD, MPH, MN, RN

  • Assoc. Professor and Campus Director at WSU’s College of Nursing campus in Spokane, WA
  • former program coordinator for College’s Advanced Population Health masters’ degree
  • has worked in a wide variety of community settings, including positions in public health, migrant school nurse, and vocational rehabilitation
  • certificate in Decision Making for Climate Change from University of Washington

Larry Freeman, MD

  • board certified in general psychiatry and board eligible in child and adolescent psychiatry
  • longtime member of WPSR and the Union of Concerned Scientists
  • former faculty of the Family Practice/Spokane residency program at UW

Kenneth Lans, MD, MBA

  • retired general practice physician
  • founding board member of WPSR
  • trained as a volunteer for public action and speaking through Climate Reality Project
  • photographer and long-time publisher for Seattle Mountaineers

David Masuda, MD, MS

  • lecturer at UW in two departments: Dept. of Medical Education and Biomedical Informatics, School of Medicine; Dept. of Health Services, School of Public Health
  • completed residency in diagnostic radiology
  • masters degree in administrative medicine
  • completed a postdoctoral fellowship in biomedical and health informatics

Laura Skelton, MS

  • Executive Director at WPSR
  • master’s degree in ecology
  • former program director and interim executive director at two Seattle-based nonprofits
  • co-authored national curricula on climate change

Michael Soman, MD, MPH

  • recently retired President and Chief Medical Executive of Group Health Physicians
  • spent over 20 years as a practicing physician, including 14 years as a clinic chief
  • had operational responsibility for Group Health Delivery System for a decade
  • active around climate change issues; member of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby

Mark Vossler, MD, FACC

  • Medical Director of the Heart Failure Program and Cardiac Enhancement Center at Evergreen Hospital
  • board certified in cardiovascular diseases
  • former faculty at OHSU
  • longtime member of WPSR

I hope you are as excited about our climate change program as I am. Together, we can do great things! In fact, we already are making great strides.                 

Bruce Amundson, MD
WPSR President