Power plant standards to cut climate-changing carbon emissions will reduce other harmful air pollution and provide substantial human health benefits, according to a new study. The research shows that, depending on the policy options included in the final Clean Power Plan, the power plant standards could prevent thousands of premature deaths and hospitalizations, and hundreds of heart attacks in the United States every year.
In the new study, Health Co-benefits of Carbon Standards for Existing Power Plants, scientists at Harvard, Syracuse, and Boston University analyzed three options for standards to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. They modeled air quality and health benefits for these scenarios and compared them to business as usual in the year 2020. The analysis is called a “co-benefits” study because it focuses on the added benefits of a carbon standard that come from reducing other harmful power plant emissions such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. These pollutants are precursors to smog and soot that cause heart and lung disease, exacerbate asthma, and contribute to premature death.
“Our study shows that standards to cut carbon emissions from power plants can reduce other harmful pollutants, leading almost immediately to cleaner air and improved health,” said co-author Jonathan Buonocore of Harvard School of Public Health. These added health benefits would help address ongoing air pollution impacts in the U.S.