Rules to cut carbon emissions also reduce harmful air pollution
Setting strong standards for climate-changing carbon emissions from power stations would provide the added bonus of reducing other air pollutants that can make people sick and damage the environment.
A first-of-its-kind study released today by scientists at Syracuse University and Harvard has mapped the potential environmental and human health benefits of power plant carbon standards and found potential for reductions of more than 750 thousand tons of other harmful air pollutants across the US.
The authors of the study, Co-benefits of Carbon Standards: Air Pollution Changes under Different 111d Options for Existing Power Plants, use three policy options for the forthcoming EPA rule as a guide to model changes in power plant emissions of four other harmful air pollutants: fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, and mercury. The scientists compared the model results with a business-as-usual reference case for the year 2020.
Of the three scenarios simulated, the top-performing option decreased sulphur dioxide and mercury emissions by 27% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 22% by 2020 compared to the reference case. This option reduced carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 35% from 2005 levels by 2020. The scientists state that the resulting air quality improvements are likely to lead to significant gains in public and environmental health.
"When power plants limit carbon dioxide emissions, they can also release less sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and other pollutants," said Dr Charles Driscoll of Syracuse University. "One of the policy options we analysed cut emissions of these non-carbon pollutants by approximately 75,000 tons per year by 2020," Driscoll said.
"We know that these other pollutants contribute to increased risk of premature death and heart attacks, as well as increased incidence and severity of asthma and other health effects. They also contribute to acid rain, ozone damage to trees and crops, and the accumulation of toxic mercury in fish," added Driscoll. "This new analysis shows that there is a real opportunity to help reverse decades of environmental damage from power plant emissions and to improve human health," he said.
In addition to summarizing changes in emissions, the study quantifies the resulting improvements in air quality. It features detailed maps illustrating the benefits of decreased emissions from roughly 2,400 power plants for every 12x12km area of the continental United States. With a strong carbon standard, improvements are widespread, and every state receives some benefit. The maps show that the greatest benefits occur in the eastern US, particularly in states in and around the Ohio River Valley, as well as the Rocky Mountain region.
Continue reading at ENN affiliate, ClickGreen.
Air pollution image via Shutterstock.