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New Study: Carbon Standards to Bring Annual Health Benefits to Most U.S. Counties

June 7, 2016
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A map of the United States

Most US regions would gain economic benefits if power plants followed carbon standards with moderately stringent emissions targets and a high level of compliance flexibility, according to a new study co-authored by Kathy Fallon Lambert, Director of the Science Policy Exchange and the Harvard Forest Science & Policy Integration Project.

The new paper, "An Analysis of Costs and Health Co-benefits for a U.S. Power Plant Carbon Standard," was published today in the open access journal PLOS ONE. The lead author is Dr. Jonathan Buonocore from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, with additional co-authors from Syracuse University and Resources for the Future.

The new study is the first to break down the costs and monetary value of health co-benefits of a power plant carbon standard by sub regions for the entire U.S.

The researchers estimated the economic value of the health co-benefits associated with improved air quality from reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter from the power sector that would accompany power plant carbon standards. The carbon standards in the study were similar to, but not the same as, the Clean Power Plan finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on August 3, 2015.

The researchers found that the health co-benefits of the carbon standards are widespread with most counties receiving more than $1 million in health co-benefits annually from the carbon standards in the study. Counties in the Northeast and Southwest U.S. tended to receive the highest total value in health co-benefits. The regions with the greatest health co-benefits per person are the Mid-Atlantic, Ohio River Valley, and South-Central regions of the U.S. Nearly every individual in these regions gain at least $100 in health co-benefits yearly due to improved air quality. Individuals living in highly populated areas downwind from coal-fired power plants that shift to cleaner energy sources stand to benefit most.

The authors frame their results as a conservative estimate because they only looked at a subset of benefits. With the full range of climate, health, and ecosystem benefits factored in, they expect that net benefits would be even larger and would accrue to all regions even more quickly following implementation.

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