Study: Pennsylvanians Stand to See Health Benefits From Tighter Emissions Standards

May 5, 2015

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is slated to finalize its Clean Power Plan this summer, spelling out new carbon emissions standards for America’s 2,400 fossil-fuel-fired power plants.

According to a new paper published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, Pennsylvanians are among those who stand to benefit most from the health impacts of lower carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.

“We find that there are health benefits in all of the 48 states that are modeled, but the states with the greatest benefits are Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas,” said co-author Dallas Burtraw, senior fellow at Resources for the Future, a DC-based research institute focusing on the environment and economics.

With the exception of New York, the states expected to experience the greatest health benefits from stronger emissions standards are also the states wherein fossil-fuel-powered energy generation is a major part of the economy.

The paper modeled the air quality and public health effects of three different scenarios. The first scenario involved operational changes in existing power plants, the second closely mirrored the proposed Clean Power Plan with flexibility in how standards are achieved and investments in demand-side energy efficiency, while the third mimicked a tax on carbon with stringent emissions standards.

The second scenario was found to have the greatest health impacts, with an estimated 3,500 premature deaths nationwide avoided annually by 2020. The scenario would also reduce hospitalizations, heart attacks, and cases of asthma and bronchitis. Burtraw said the findings challenge the traditional narrative around climate change.

“People think about climate change as something that’s going to occur in the distant future and that efforts to reduce climate change yield benefits in the distant future and dispersed geographically across the globe,” Burtraw said. “What we find is that efforts to reduce climate change yield important benefits close to home and in the near present.”