ANN ARBOR (WWJ) — The Ecology Center has joined forces with Physicians for Social Responsibility to collaborate on efforts to support expanded energy efficiency and renewable energy programs and policies throughout Michigan.

Stephanie Dernek will become PSR’s first chapter director for Michigan, and work out of the Ecology Center offices to mobilize health professionals to educate the public about the negative health impacts of burning coal and help them engage in Michigan’s energy policy debate.

“Energy efficiency contributes to health in several important ways,” said Alexis Blizman, legislative and policy director at the Ecology Center. “At the most immediate level, people are healthier living in warm, draft-free homes, but at a broader level, energy efficiency would lower the demand for dirty energy, especially from Michigan’s coal-fired power plants, which would result in significant benefits to public health.”

More than half of Michigan’s energy currently comes from coal-burning power plants, which the Ecology Center says accounts for 61 percent of the state’s air pollution.

A recent study found that 180 premature deaths per year in Michigan are associated with particle emissions from nine coal-fired power plants; another study reported that Michigan was the fifth worst state in the nation for mortality, hospital admissions and heart attacks associated with coal-fired power plants.

“Given the harm to health inflicted by dirty air, the people of Michigan stand to benefit substantially from investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Blizman said.

“There is overwhelming evidence that burning coal has many negative health impacts and contributes to climate change, and it’s very important to get that message across,” Dernek said. “Health professionals, doctors and nurses, are some of the most trusted messengers to the public, so framing the case for energy efficiency and renewable energy in terms of health protection, and having health professionals deliver that message, will add a highly credible, widely respected voice to the debate.”

Dernek has a master’s degree in social justice from Loyola University. She has spent the last several years working for the Eighth Day Center for Justice in Chicago, a multi-issue social justice organization, where she helped lead broad coalitions, conducted public education programs, and organized campaigns.

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