Clean air and health benefits of clean power plan hinge on key policy decisions

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Credit: Alfred Palmer/Wikipedia

States will gain large, widespread, and nearly immediate health benefits if EPA sets strong standards in the final Clean Power Plan, according to the first independent, peer-reviewed paper of its kind, published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The researchers analyzed three options for power plant carbon standards. The top option in the study prevents an expected 3,500 premature deaths in the US every year, with a range of 780 to up to 6100. It also averts more than a thousand heart attacks and hospitalizations annually from air pollution-related illness. But weaker options considered in the study provide fewer estimated health benefits and could even have detrimental health effects, according to the paper.

The study comes at a pivotal time for climate policy as EPA prepares to release the final Clean Power Plan this summer. The Plan is the nation's first attempt to establish standards for carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. It is also viewed as an important signal of US leadership in the run-up to international climate negotiations in Paris in December.

"If EPA sets strong carbon standards, we can expect large public health benefits from cleaner air almost immediately after the standards are implemented," said Dr. Jonathan Buonocore, Research Fellow in the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and a co-author of the new paper.

The researchers mapped the and related health benefits for the entire continental US under three options for the Clean Power Plan. They found that all states and all types of communities see improved air quality under the top option. Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas post the greatest health gains with 330 to 230 estimated premature deaths prevented each year.

"An important implication of this study is that the largest health benefits from the transition to cleaner energy are expected in states that currently have the greatest dependence on coal-fired electricity," said Dallas Burtraw, Darius Gaskins Senior Fellow, Resources for the Future, and a co-author of the new paper.

Power plants are the nation's largest source of carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to . They also release other pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter—precursors to smog and soot that harm human health. The study looks at the added health benefits, or co-benefits, of carbon standards from reductions in these other air pollutants.

The results from the three policy options analyzed in the study are surprising. The option that only implements power plant upgrades, as favored by some groups, results in slightly lower air quality and modest adverse health effects. The option with the deepest cuts in carbon emissions does not produce the largest health benefits because it lacks new end-user energy efficiency. The top option for health prevents almost twice as many as the runner-up for every ton of carbon dioxide reduced.

"The bottom line is, the more the standards promote cleaner fuels and energy efficiency, the greater the added health benefits," said Dr. Charles Driscoll, University Professor of Environmental Systems Engineering, Syracuse University, and lead author of the paper. "We found that the greatest clean air and health benefits occur when stringent targets for are combined with compliance measures that promote demand-side energy efficiency and cleaner energy sources across the power sector," said Driscoll.

The results panned out like the story of the "three little pigs." One option is like the house of straw - it seems protective but it isn't. Another option is like the house of sticks - it is stronger than straw but ultimately doesn't hold up. The final option is like the house of bricks - it uses all the right building blocks and has the best outcome.

The findings demonstrate that EPA's policy choices will determine the clean air and public health benefits for states and communities. The option in the study with the top health benefits is the one that is most similar to the draft standards released by EPA last June. So, the good news is that the formula in the draft Clean Power Plan is on the right track to provide large health benefits.

The new paper also has important international implications and brings much-needed attention to the benefits of climate change solutions. "The immediate and widespread local of cleaner air from policies to address greenhouse gas emissions can provide a strong motivation for US and global action on climate change," Driscoll concluded.

A follow-on study analyzing the added benefits of power plant carbon standards for water, visibility crops, and trees is expected out this summer.


Explore further

Power plant standards could save thousands of US lives every year

More information: Nature Climate Change, nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/nclimate2598
Journal information: Nature Climate Change

Citation: Clean air and health benefits of clean power plan hinge on key policy decisions (2015, May 4) retrieved 15 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2015-05-air-health-benefits-power-hinge.html
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May 04, 2015
These are "externalities" to Filthy Fuel users. They do not have to pay for the health care costs, so coal is cheap to them.

These are the personal and societal costs hidden in our use of Filthy Fuels.

May 04, 2015
Who cares about the cost of electricity and transportation in the US anyway! We don't need no stinking jobs. The government can just continue to print money and distribute it to the bankers who will give some of it to us. Let the fools in China have all the industrial jobs and we will purchase their goods with our fiat money.

May 04, 2015
That's pretty silly, 166.

Dumping coal and nuclear power is one way to avoid that.

May 04, 2015
If EPA sets strong carbon standards, we can expect large public health benefits from cleaner air almost immediately after the standards are implemented

Sure, but there's no correlation between adverse health impacts and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. It's the particulate emissions from coal plants that adversely affect health, not the carbon dioxide. The new standards would force the closure of coal plants, thus no more particulate pollution. It would also drive up the cost of electricity. What the study doesn't show is the negative health impact of more expensive electricity; for example due to people not being able to afford heating or cooling during cold spells or heat waves. Negative economic impacts correlate very strongly to adverse health and when they are not considered, studies like this are worthless.

May 04, 2015
"Dumping coal and nuclear power is one way to avoid that."

Electric power too costly, I have an idea, let's just close all of the coal and nuclear plants. Yea that'ill work. Let all of those energy hungry server farms move to India. Who needs IT jobs anyway?

May 04, 2015
Got that wrong, 166. IT folks were some of the first to use fuel cells, and have put entire data centers on alternative energy. I used to lecture to those guys in their semiannual get-togethers.

May 04, 2015
"IT folks were some of the first to use fuel cells,"

Perhaps as backup power in the event of a grid failure. But for the most part batteries are used until the diesel generators can kick in.

If you are trying to say that there are any server farms running 24/7 on fuel cells that is news to me. Not that that is a bad idea, a carbonate fuel cell running on natural gas could be very reliable. Costly, but reliable.

May 04, 2015
Not as costly as power loss or other long-term backups. And it produces DC, no multiple conversion steps necessary.

And if PEM cells were used, which require a reformer, they can just replace the battery strings in the Hydrogen-rated battery rooms with fuel cell stacks.

May 04, 2015
"And it produces DC, no multiple conversion steps necessary. "

So fuel cells produce all the different dc voltages that a server needs eh!!!

Sorry buddy but the fuel cell output is converted into AC before it is used.

May 04, 2015
What do you know about fuel cell stacks? They are like battery cells, and you can tap off or build what you want.

Go read up how PEM cells work.

May 04, 2015
Aksdad and others who make the no connection between CO2 and health argument obviously haven't read this or any of the other articles showing that even slight elevations in CO2 levels, such as the difference between downwind and upwind of a natural gas power plant, are correlated with asthma and the severity of respiratory illnesses.

Please quit spouting illogical BS and pretending it's fact.

May 05, 2015
States will gain large, widespread, and nearly immediate health benefits if EPA sets strong standards in the final Clean Power Plan

Health... Something the Republicans hate for people to have; good health. To a rightwinger health is something only the rich deserve (even if it means they get none). No health care for you,

So this is something I've never understood about wingnuts like the 166... What do you get out of being a winger?

May 05, 2015
"So this is something I've never understood about wingnuts like the 166... What do you get out of being a winger?"

Nothot2 at least I learned something from the history of the 1900s to now. You seem to think that powerful central governments are the solution whereas I know that they are the problem. The "Common Good" that they push is just a code word for the exercise of crushing power.

May 05, 2015
A prime example of the harm done by big government increasing it's power by pandering to the masses is Harlem in the upper part of NYC. In the 1940s, it was a rich, well educated mostly black community that was the heart of modern entertainment. After 40 years of government antipoverty programs Harlem was turned into an uneducated and dangerous slum. It is just now recovering from the effects of "The Great Society"!

May 05, 2015
hate for people to have; good health.

Republicans look at the(ir) bottom line.
You can't make money off of healthy people. Sick people buy meds. Best are low-level chronically sick people (and the best way to get chronically sick people ist to put them in an environment that gives them constant low doses of stuff that makes them sick*).
Or if anything else fails you just DEFINE healthy people as chronically sick - and proceed to pump them full of meds for life (ADHD - I'm looking at you)
On top of that it's not profitable to let people get to be too old. Best if they die a day after retirement.

Healthy people are something for 'bleeding hearts liberals', apparently.

*Think about why most drug research is for alleviation of symptoms rather than finding a cure. A cure for the common cold would be a total disaster for pharmaceutical industry

May 05, 2015
"Or if anything else fails you just DEFINE healthy people as chronically sick - and proceed to pump them full of meds for life (ADHD - I'm looking at you)"

OH PLEASE !!!! You know as well as I do that the US educational system is controlled by progressives and they are the ones pushing ADHD. THEY are the people drugging our kids in order to keep them quite and compliant.

May 05, 2015
"On top of that it's not profitable to let people get to be too old. Best if they die a day after retirement."

Is that why FDR set the Social Security retirement age to 65 when that also happened to be the average life expectancy? Was FDR a closet Republican?

Anti your political biases are astounding.

May 05, 2015
Did you loo0k up fuel cells? PEM cell stacks?

I do not know why you folk think I am faking it, . . unless you are imposters.

May 05, 2015
I'm waiting, 166.

May 05, 2015
Like nukes?

Look up Boone Dam, which is currently starting to fail, with NINE nuclear reactors downstream!

May 05, 2015
Gkam please show me ONE server farm run by a major entity that is using straight DC from a PEM fuel cell as a source of site power. First of all H2 is WAY to expensive for power when natural gas is so cheap. Secondly, good luck finding a source of H2 in the event of a prolonged emergency.
Sometimes I think that you comment just to evoke a response from others.

May 05, 2015
I did not say an entire server farm of data center is fed from PEM cells. You are not familiar with fuel cells, yet you take all the shots you can at my posts, why?

Look up Proton Power Pleasant Hill, and see I had the rights to a 4 kW stack over ten years ago, and we almost sold it to HP. Carly Fiorina came in to HP, and it was over.

Why do you folk think I would lie? I gave you my real name. Do you lie in public?

May 05, 2015
"Look up Boone Dam, which is currently starting to fail, with NINE nuclear reactors downstream!"

Well there is no real worry there unless the people in charge of it's upkeep are Democrats. Considering the "Great" job the Democrats did in New Orleans upgrading the levies that could be a real problem.

Anyway the progressive solution to the problem is to take down the dam because the 81,000 KW that it generates is not considered "Renewable" energy by the progressive establishment.

May 05, 2015
Let's face it, in the progressive mind all dams are evil. That is why so many of them were torn down in Calif. .

May 05, 2015
"Carly Fiorina came in to HP, and it was over."

What a bitch!!!! All she did was save HP from certain bankruptcy.

May 05, 2015
Ever talked to an HP executive? Employees? See how much they love Carly?

Did you look up fuel cell stacks?

I'm waiting.


May 05, 2015
Gkam keep waiting. When you are able to prove that PEM fuel cells are a viable and economical source of power or even backup power for that matter I will concede that you are correct.

May 05, 2015
Nope. No matter what you find, you will not be able to admit it.

Just like otto.

May 05, 2015
I did not say an entire server farm of data center is fed from PEM cells
Well what you said was:
IT folks were some of the first to use fuel cells, and have put entire data centers on alternative energy
-So this must mean fuel cells in addition to - what? It certainly seems as if you were implying that some server farms use PEM cells entirely, right?
I used to lecture to those guys in their semiannual get-togethers
You used to deliver lunch-and-learn presentations prepared by others. You were a talking head. Correct?
Why do you folk think I would lie?
-Because that's what you DO George. You've been given conclusive proof.
I gave you my real name
-and you think this gives you the right to make up any bullshit as you see fit??
Do you lie in public?
YOU lie in public and you think you can get away with it just by posting your real name. That makes no sense to anyone but you.


May 05, 2015
"IT folks were some of the first to use fuel cells, and have put entire data centers on alternative energy"
-----------------------

They were. They used phosphoric acid units providing both power and heat, with natural gas as a fuel. It was more than ten years ago, so I have to remember who built and distributed them world-wide.

And alternative energy means just that, not purely fuel cells, but the integration of alternative power sources. Pure alternative energy sources, Toots. Many are powered by wind alone.

I do not understand how they let vandals on this forum. Do you have a life, otto? You certainly do not have any experience.

May 05, 2015
So you have examples of data centers that have wind farms in addition to fuel cells? Or any other 'alternative energy' source at all?
so I have to remember
You should be able to find them on the Internet. Why don't you give it a try? Because, you know, your word is shit here-

May 05, 2015
otto, please go away.

You serve no purpose here. Your poor character drives you to "get even" with me for being genuine, while most of you are hiding behind pseudonyms, or are admitted gamers like you, otto, or whoever you are.

Please go vandalize some other forum.


May 05, 2015
otto, please go away.

You serve no purpose here. Your poor character
Ahaahaaa poor character is someone who inflates his CV to justify his nonsense about nuclear explosions in Fukushima plants which throw non-existent reactor vessel parts 130. This is the epitome of 'poor character'. It is disgusting and foul.
drives you to "get even" with me for being genuine
What drives me is the desire to expose rank phonies like yourself. And it will not stop.

May 09, 2015
Sometimes it is fun to see otto expose his character.

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