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Want to Save Thousands of American Lives Each Year? Cut Power Plant Pollution

doniger-davidnew study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, calculates that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan will save thousands of lives every year.

The study, by researchers at Harvard, Syracuse and Boston Universities and Resources for the Future, finds that a strategy to meet the proposed Clean Power Plan targets that emphasizes energy efficiency and renewable power could save 3,500 lives each year.

That’s the scientists’ estimate of life-saving that will flow from cutting carbon pollution as much as the EPA has proposed. Cutting carbon pollution also cuts emissions of other pollutants that cause soot and smog — toxic quantities of fine particles and ozone — that directly harm the health of our kids, our seniors and friends and neighbors throughout the population.

We can likely save even more than 3,500 lives if the EPA strengthens the final Clean Power Plan rule, expected out this summer. NRDC’s analysis shows that we can economically cut power plants’ carbon pollution by 50 percent more than the EPA proposed, and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. “There’s definitely room for additional benefits,” says lead researcher Dr. Charles Driscoll, a professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at Syracuse University. “You can push further.”

The lives saved will come from cutting the hundreds of thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen that pour out of our nation’s power-plant smokestacks along with carbon dioxide. These pollutants form dangerous soot and smog as they float downwind and cook in the atmosphere. These pollutants increase our risk of heart attacks, asthma attacks, respiratory diseases like emphysema and even lung cancer.

When the green eyeshade types assign dollar numbers to these health benefits, you get “a very good benefit-cost ratio,” says Syracuse’s Dr. Driscoll.

Ironically, the most life-saving will take place in the very states where many elected officials and political candidates most adamantly oppose the Clean Power Plan: Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Texas, West Virginia. It’s the very states where coal use is highest, that public health benefits most. (Mitch McConnell, please take note.)

The Harvard-Syracuse-Boston numbers are above and beyond the lives saved by other Clean Air Act standards (such as the federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, the Clean Air Interstate Rule) and state renewable energy and energy efficiency policies. (The MATS rule alone will save 7,600 lives a year and prevent 4,700 non-fatal heart attacks.) These lives saved by the Clean Power Plan will be additional to those.

David Doniger
David Doniger is the director of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Climate and Clean Air Program in Washington, DC. He is also the NRDC’s chief global warming lawyer. He rejoined NRDC in March 2001 after serving for eight years in the Clinton administration, including as director of climate change policy at the US Environmental Protection Agency. He first started working at NRDC in 1978, taking on clean air issues for the next 14 years.
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3 thoughts on “Want to Save Thousands of American Lives Each Year? Cut Power Plant Pollution

  1. It’s a HUGE stretch to say that hurricane Sandy was caused by global warming and a blatantly outrageous claim that the deaths associated with the storm were also due to climate change. Frankly, it’s these types of exaggerated claims that embolden those who deny climate change by strengthening their argument that environmentalists are nothing more than modern-day ‘Chicken Littles’ by claiming that all unusual weather is ultimately a result of greenhouse gas emissions.

    Sometimes a bad storm is just a bad storm as hurricanes/typhoons existed well before global warming started.

  2. Interesting article. I assume it means if there is an allowance for some pollution to keep the lights on then there will be some incrimental deaths? If that is the case, then why allow for any deaths? Turn all the power plants off and stop contributing to global warming, otherwise you must be for some deaths

  3. The exhaust that is going up these power plants chimneys is combusted energy that has not yet been given a purpose, so lets give it a purpose.
    The heat energy can be recovered with the technology of Condensing Flue Gas Heat Recovery. Utilize this heart energy. Vent Cool exhaust.
    The technology of Carbon Capture Utilization (not CCS) is designed to transform the CO2 that is in combusted coal and natural gas into useful – saleable products.
    Full time jobs will be created and profits will be realized.
    With the heat energy removed from the combusted exhaust, Water is being created. This distilled water is very useable.

    Until there is enough renewable energy available 24/7 we will need to still reply on fossil fuels.
    Lets tell the utilities to “Clean Up” their combusted exhaust and then remove and recycle the chimney material.

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