US | Harvard study finds $33b annual net benefit from a power plant carbon standard

CC BY-NC 2.0 Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

CC BY-NC 2.0 Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Nearly all U.S. regions stand to gain health and economic benefits from power plant carbon standards similar to the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s climate change plan, according to a new study by scientists from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Syracuse University, Resources for the Future, and the Harvard Forest, Harvard University as a project of the Science Policy Exchange.

In the study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, the authors report large national net benefits of approximately $33 billion per year for the power plant carbon standard in the study. The estimated implementation cost of $17 billion/year was outweighed by health co-benefits of $29 billion/year and climate benefits of $21 billion/year. Both types of benefits were conservatively estimated.

“We found that the health benefits would outweigh the estimated costs of the carbon standard in our study for 13 out of 14 power sector regions within five years of implementation—even though we only looked at a subset of the total benefits,” said lead author Jonathan Buonocore, Research Associate and Program Leader at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Chan School. The modeled health co-benefits — resulting from decreases in emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, and particulate matter — include only premature deaths, hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiovascular episodes, and non-fatal heart attacks. Actual benefits from the power plant standards are likely to be even larger than current estimates, based on scientific evidence for associated decreases in other health conditions such as asthma, stroke, autism, health effects of hazardous air pollutants, and direct health effects of climate change.

While other studies have analyzed total national costs and benefits of power plant carbon standards, this is the first study of its kind to break down the costs and benefits by sub region for the entire U.S. The researchers found that the benefits would be widespread and, before accounting for costs, most counties would receive more than $1 million in health co-benefits annually.

Total annual co-benefits of moderately stringent, highly flexible carbon standards in 2020 (2010 USD) -- via

Total annual co-benefits of moderately stringent, highly flexible carbon standards in 2020 (2010 USD) — via Buonocore et. al. 2016

The power plant carbon standards analyzed in this study are similar to the CPP in that they set moderately stringent carbon emission targets (35% reduction by 2020) while allowing for a high degree of flexibility in compliance strategies (cleaner fuels, energy efficiency, emissions trading, and other measures). Due to objections from certain states, the CPP is currently undergoing litigation that will determine its fate, expected in late 2017 or early 2018.

The study concludes, “As this and other studies demonstrate, the health co-benefits gained from air quality improvements associated with climate mitigation policies can be large, widespread, and occur nearly immediately once emissions reductions are realized. As such, health co-benefits can offset costs and provide an important additional motivation for policies that target greenhouse gas emissions, including the U.S. Federal Clean Power Plan.”

For more information:

  • Read the study in PLOS ONE
  • Read the coverage in Think Progress
  • Read the Harvard press release
Tagged with , , ,
This post was written by
Comments are closed.