Climate change regulations could lower number of premature deaths: study

06 May 2015


A new study reveals that the Obama administration's controversial plan to cut climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants could lower the number of premature deaths in the US by about 3,500 a year, including 330 in Pennsylvania.

According to the study published in peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Climate Change, Pennsylvania would experience the highest number of avoidable premature deaths annually, with Ohio (280) second and Texas (230) third.

The study was conducted by researchers from Harvard, Boston and Syracuse universities.

The study said, federal policies on the lines of the Clean Power Plan, intended to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels, would also cause a decline in lung disease and heart attacks, which, in  Pennsylvania, translated into 71 hospitalisations and 19 heart attacks avoided each year.

Across the US, the policies could see 1,000 fewer hospitalisations and 220 fewer heart attacks.

According to Charles T Driscoll, lead author of the study and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Syracuse, people were focused on climate control and mitigation, but in this study the researchers wanted to bring attention to the additional benefits from carbon controls.

The researchers say the benefits would come not from cutting CO2 emissions per se, but from simultaneous reductions in other emissions that accompanied burning coal, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, and fine-grained particles.

According to Dallas Burtraw, an economist with Resources for the Future, a Washington-based environmental think tank and a co-author of the study, the message of the research was that combating climate change produced real benefits in the present and close to home.

In one of the scenarios considered in the study, as many as 3,500 premature deaths a year could be avoided by 2020. These would come from additional cuts in mercury, sulfur-dioxide, nitrogen oxides emissions, and fine-grained particulates, which, according to public-health officials, contributed to respiratory problems.

According to Driscoll, areas with the worst are quality got the most co-benefits. However, he added, every state in the lower 48 would see some benefits, he adds.

Meanwhile, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity rejected the study as an academic exercise.

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