Neal Opening Statement at Hearing on Preparing America’s Health Care Infrastructure for the Climate Crisis
Washington, September 15, 2022
(As prepared for delivery)
Today, we are here to examine how the health sector is contributing to the climate crisis, the ways extreme weather events are disrupting the health care delivery system nationwide, and what’s needed to safeguard our health care infrastructure from these changing conditions.
Last year, the medical community cited climate change as the greatest threat to global public health. Our health in is large part determined by our environment—from the air we breathe to the water we drink to the access we have to health care services.
We know that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are the most significant factor accelerating the climate crisis. We also know that the health care industry is responsible for 10 percent of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. But we haven’t spent enough time thinking about how these two trends go together – how the health care system contributes to the climate crisis and how changing weather patterns impact health.
When it comes to extreme weather, last year alone, we saw a historic freeze in Texas, the third most-named hurricanes in history, and the hottest summer on record. All these events affect our health. In Texas, health care operations were disrupted when hospitals and emergency departments were overwhelmed. Over the last two decades, it is estimated that 114 climate-related hospital evacuations took place. More than half of these meant evacuating over 100 patients.
These are serious threats to Americans health. From providers to suppliers to the many other actors in the sector, all have a role to play in curbing emissions and preparing for the increasing instances of extreme weather.
Another factor to consider is how these changes exacerbate existing health inequities. Back in 2019, this Committee held a hearing on the economic and health consequences of climate change, where we heard loud and clear that the impact of climate change doesn’t fall equally. Rather, the communities that are already the most vulnerable remain the least equipped to deal with the added stressors of climate change.
The U.S. health care system is only beginning to feel the damaging effects of climate change. But it’s clear that more climate-related weather events and rising emissions will continue to worsen health outcomes, and the time for action is now.
Making important upfront investments will not only protect our health care systems from weather-related risks, but will also offer potential cost savings to organizations and the health care system.
Earlier this year, I released a request for information to providers across the country asking them about the ways extreme weather events are interrupting their operations and also what they are doing to reduce their carbon footprint. I am proud that, along with this hearing today, we have released a Majority Staff Report that aggregates those findings. It is clear we have a lot of work to do together moving forward. But honest dialogue and a commitment to change are the first steps.
Today’s discussion is an important step to understanding the role of the federal government plays in supporting how health care facilities both respond to the climate crisis and mitigate their contribution to it. We need to encourage urgent, measurable action. There’s no one size fits all response, but the federal government can move the industry from a piecemeal approach to intentional, comprehensive strategies.
I look forward to hearing from our distinguished witnesses today and with that I will now recognize the Ranking Member, Mr. Brady for purposes of an opening statement.