Study Shows How Power Plant Rules Can Save Lives, Improve Public Health in Texas

A recent study suggests that a carbon emissions reduction policy for power plants could prevent thousands of premature deaths

A carbon emissions reduction policy for power plants could prevent thousands of premature deaths

When it comes to reducing carbon pollution from power plants, details in policy choices matter, especially for the state of Texas.

The final proposal of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which would put the first ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants in the U.S., is expected later this summer. It comes on the heels of the publication of an important study in Nature Climate Change, which examined three different power plant carbon policy options and then investigated how each would affect clean air and public health.

The study is titled Health Co-benefits of Carbon Standards for Existing Power Plants, and was conducted by scientists Dr. Buonocore and Dr. Charles Driscoll as well as their colleagues from Harvard, Syracuse, and Boston Universities.

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The results suggest that a carbon emissions reduction policy for power plants could prevent thousands of premature deaths, as well as hospitalizations, in the United States every year. That’s great news for us because Texas would be one of the states with the greatest number of lives saved.

Why is decreasing carbon emissions good for public health? When carbon pollution from power plants is reduced, other harmful pollutants are reduced at the same time — this is often referred to as the “co-benefits” of carbon pollution reduction. These other pollutants, including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, are the forerunners of soot and smog and can cause heart and lung disease, as well as contribute to asthma attacks and premature death.

In the study, researchers analyzed three different scenarios of implementation of power plant carbon emission standards. The scenario most similar to the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, described as “moderately stringent and highly flexible,” was found to produce the greatest estimated health benefits.

The study results estimate that in 2020, this “flexible” scenario would prevent about 3,500 air pollution-related premature deaths in the U.S. each year. There would also be approximately 1,000 fewer hospital admissions from heart and lung problems each year, and roughly 220 heart attacks prevented annually. In addition, a variety of other health benefits would stem from this approach, including reduced asthma symptoms.

Those are big numbers, with even bigger impacts on human health in the United States.

In Texas alone between 2020 and 2030, approximately 2300 lives would be saved and that 790 hospitalizations and 140 heart attacks would be prevented by implementing a carbon reduction strategy similar to the flexible scenario researchers examined. Texas, as one of the states noted for having persistent air quality problems due to power plant pollution, would be one of twelve states to have the most lives saved.

There is a tremendous need to improve air quality in Texas. As Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas recently said at a climate and health briefing, “Those of us from the Dallas/Fort Worth region are very familiar with the negative effects of smog and are accustomed to seeing orange and red alerts warning us about being outside because the air is too polluted for it to be safe. In fact, the American Lung Association gives the air quality of Dallas Grade F.”

Fortunately for Texas, power plant carbon standards that are both flexible and effective, like those proposed in the Clean Power Plan, could help change that for the better.

At their core, the results of this study show that the decisions the EPA is making on power plant standards do make a difference for all of our health. These policy choices can lead to significant health benefits for Texans and save human lives that should not be taken for granted.


image credit: Kim Seng

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