Hospitals Push Back Against Biden Administration Request to Cut Carbon Emissions

Hospitals are pushing back against the Biden administration's request to cut carbon emissions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Associated Press reported.

On Monday, the administration began the new Office of Climate Change and Health Equity to push hospitals to engage in more environmentally friendly health practices to reduce carbon emissions. The health care system is responsible for roughly 10 percent of carbon dioxide emitted yearly.

However, hospitals argue that they are busy dealing with the fourth wave of rising COVID-19 infections and that government requirements are in part responsible for their output of carbon emissions.

The chief operating officer of the American Hospital Association, Michelle Hood, said in a statement that hospitals are ordered by the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration to increase the usage of their air purification systems, a "worthy goal," to protect against COVID-19 from spreading.

"There are numerous other examples of where regulations compel hospitals to take actions that may not be aligned with efforts to decarbonize, but may be important to the care of patients or the safety of staff and others," Hood added.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Nurses Care for COVID-19 Patient
Hospitals are pushing back against the Biden administration's request to cut carbon emissions. In this photo, nurses care for a COVID-19 patient inside the ICU (intensive care unit) at Adventist Health in Sonora, California on August 27, 2021. Nic Coury/AFP via Getty Images

Depending on how much money is at stake, it's likely that the Biden administration's push for hospitals to cut carbon emissions will be met with industry resistance.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said the new Office of Climate Change and Health Equity will also work with localities to mitigate harmful effects of climate change, such as seniors succumbing to excessive summer heat because their apartments lack air conditioning. Minority communities that often bear a disproportionate impact from environmental problems will get special attention.

"It's not just about the climate, it's not just about our environment," Becerra said. "It's about our health."

The health care system is a substantial source of greenhouse gases that abet climate change. President Joe Biden has set a goal of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2030. Although transportation is the single biggest emissions source, every sector of the economy is being scrutinized to meet Biden's target.

Engaging the hospital industry will be the biggest test facing the new office. Becerra said the administration will move step-by-step, fleshing out the scientific case for health care institutions to reduce their carbon footprint, using government-owned hospitals as laboratories for best practices, and lobbying the industry's top leaders.

But he also raised the prospect of twisting arms via new regulations. Hospitals are heavily dependent on Medicare and Medicaid payments for their economic survival.

"We are going to reach out to various industries and speak to them as much as we can," Becerra told reporters.

But "I'm not interested in sitting around and waiting," he continued. "If the science is with us, if we have the (legal) authorities to move ... I've instructed the team that we're going to move."

As a former attorney general of California, Becerra built a reputation for taking on major industries. A top adviser in the new HHS office had previously served in a similar environmental policy position for Becerra in the state.

There is a path to potentially finding consensus. Both the Biden administration and the health care industry are committed to working with the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine in an effort to assess the extent of the industry's carbon emissions problem and develop workable and timely strategies to address it.

"Financial penalties would not address the root cause of these issues," said Hood.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra
In this June 10, 2021 file photo, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on President Joe Biden's budget request, on Capitol Hill in Washington. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo