Reducing Power Plant CO2 Emissions Has Positive Economic Benefits

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Originally published on Gas2.

Anytime anyone suggests a plan to lower carbon emissions from generating electricity, critics start their familiar litany of complaints about how the plan will cost too much money and will lead to a loss of jobs, a decline in moral values, and the heartbreak of psoriasis.

smoke-stacksA new study by Harvard University shows why those critiques are nothing more than 100% corn-fed All American baloney. It not only gives the lie to such absurd notions, it demonstrates in stark terms just how much economic value lowering emissions can create.

The study results were published this week on Plos One. It is based on a series of emissions reduction strategies similar to the Clean Power Plan proposed by the Obama Administration. It is bitterly opposed by the power industry and their well paid political minions in Congress. The study shows the proposed reductions would generate $38 billion a year in economic benefit for the nation as a whole, primarily through reduced health care costs and longer life expectancy for US citizens.

“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’s public health school. The one region where benefits would be lower is in the Pacific northwest, which already has the greenest energy grid in the nation.

The region that could benefit the most is precisely the area with the dirtiest power plants — West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The 25 million people living in those three states would experience the greatest economic benefit from lower carbon emissions. Yet those are the states where opposition to the carbon lowering proposals like the Clean Power Plan is the fiercest.

The study analyzed the anticipated health benefits flowing from a power plant carbon standard that would achieve a 35% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020. The reductions would come from a combination of cleaner fuels, energy efficiency, emissions trading, and other measures. Research has repeatedly shown that improved air quality is associated with health benefits such as fewer premature deaths, heart attacks, and hospitalizations from respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.

It is precisely the impact on human health that the International Monetary Fund says accounts for much of what it says are the $5 trillion a year in direct and indirect subsidies available to fossil fuel industries globally.

According to the study, the highest costs of $1.5 to $3.6 billion a year are projected for the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast regions. Those same areas also stand to gain the greatest economic rewards from a lowering of carbon emissions. According to the study, they range from $1.7 billion to $5.6 billion annually.  This is the first study of its kind to break down the costs and benefits by sub-region.

“The nice thing about this study, and others like it, is that it’s able to quantify air quality and health benefits that are immediate,” said Buonocore. “So it’s able to kind of put this information in terms of benefits that can be a lot more relevant to policy makers and other decision makers.”

The study demonstrates that those who scream the loudest about how transitioning away from fossil fuels is too expensive are either liars or fools. The truth is that continuing to use the earth as a toilet for mankind’s activities is more expensive than cleaning up our act. The logic is so compelling, it should be intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer.

Source: Think Progress

Reprinted with permission.


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Derek Markham

Derek lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, fungi, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves fresh roasted chiles, peanut butter on everything, and buckets of coffee.

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