By Michael Shank

The news last week that Americans are willing to pay more for cleaner and greener energy, by almost a 2-to-1 margin, and are more willing to support a candidate that addresses the issue of climate change is a very good sign, especially as America approaches mid-term Congressional elections later this year. The poll, conducted by Bloomberg, also gives the U.S. Administration a much needed-boost, coming on the heels of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants.

This confirms what we already knew, that the public is ready to rally on climate change. It is now up to policymakers and industry to answer the call. Rational Americans, if given the option, are going to choose an energy source much like they might choose a neighborhood in which to buy a home. Cleanliness becomes a factor, as does the overall health of the neighborhood, but so too the sustainability of the community.

Energy is little different. Our energy sources must be clean enough and healthy enough for Americans and they must sustain America, economically and environmentally, long into the future. Renewability and sustainability of energy sources must be front and center in any policy decision, whether it’s finite fossil fuels or infinite solar and wind energy. That the U.S. energy sector is responsible for one-third of domestic greenhouse gas emissions is no longer acceptable.

The American public supports this thinking and are willing to pay more for energy that contributes constructively to the physical health of our citizens and the economic health of our economy. This is what policymakers must consider when protecting this country and ensuring its long-term survival. We can no longer let Big Polluters stand in the way of improving Clean Air Act standards to safeguard the health of American families. Nor can we let our lungs be contaminated by filthy fuels anymore.

We must, therefore, do what’s right for the health of America’s citizens. We know that America’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels, like coal, come with a higher risk of heart attacks, lung cancer, asthma and other health problems via the pollutants that contribute to soot, acid rain and ozone. American health has for too long been undermined by abundant amounts of sulfur dioxide, mercury and nitrogen oxide in the air. Its impact on the public is profound.

Consider America’s minority groups, for example, who are disproportionately impacted when it comes to the adverse effects on health. Approximately 40 percent of Latinos live within 30 miles of a power plant, which means they’re highly vulnerable to the negative impacts of a power plant’s toxic pollutants and particle soot. Nearly 1 in 2 Latinos reside in counties that are in frequent violation of ozone standards. Latinos are three times more likely to die from asthma than any other ethnic group. This must change.

Consider America’s workers not lost to or disabled by heart attack, lung cancer, asthma or other health problems. Our workers are going to be able to contribute more effectively to our country’s economic productivity than a sick or dying workforce made worse by pollutants from dirty energy. Cleaner energy means less cleanup and upkeep as there are fewer toxins eroding physical and human capital.

Consider another interest for America to cut the carbon in the air. Beyond better health and a cleaner and greener economy, fewer greenhouse gas emissions means fewer natural disasters. The relationship between emissions and extreme weather is one that our nation knows all too well. The greatest weapon against a Category 5 Hurricane or devastating drought is for America to cut its carbon footprint in a meaningful way.

Our imperative is clear, then, to clean up our air and clean up our energy, irrespective of any debate over our warming planet and climbing carbon emissions. If it’s doable, let’s do it, and reap the economic benefits of a clean energy economy.

If we want to save our communities from impending natural disasters, save our citizens from poisonous pollutants, and save our economy from energy options that are less than sustainable and renewable, then the choice going forward is clear: Keep it clean.

Michael Shank, Ph.D., is the associate director for legislative affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation and adjunct faculty at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.