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Public Comment: EPA’s Clean Power Plan

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On December 1, 2014, Jonathan Buonocore, Program Leader for our Climate, Energy, and Health program, and Joel Schwartz of the Harvard School of Public Health were among a group of seventeen scientists who submitted a comment to the EPA on their proposed Clean Power Plan. The effort was coordinated by the Science Policy Exchange.

In the comment, the scientists summarized the benefits of a strong carbon standard for air quality and human health. The remarks are based on recent reports led by Science Policy Exchange partners Syracuse University (air quality) and Harvard School of Public Health with Boston University School of Public Health (health). The air quality research showed that a strong carbon standard can significantly reduce several pollutants, including soot and smog, which have important consequences for public health. According to scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health, the expected declines in soot and smog could save 3500 lives per year nationwide, starting in the year 2020.

These benefits are possible if the EPA adopts a carbon standard similar to their Clean Carbon Plan proposed in June 2014. However, if the final proposal uses power plant improvements without energy efficiency upgrades to achieve carbon dioxide reduction, soot, and smog will not decline, and the U.S. will not experience air quality and health benefits. In fact, in some regions soot and smog could increase under a weak carbon standard, according to the air quality report.

The scientists used emissions projections for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides to calculate changes in air quality under each scenario in 2020 compared to business as usual. The resulting air quality estimates and maps were used to predict health benefits—county by county for the entire continental U.S.—based on established relationships between air quality and health outcomes. These calculations show the health benefits of reducing soot and smog—an expected additional benefit of a strong power plant carbon standard. These benefits are in addition to the direct health benefits of mitigating climate change.

The Science Policy Exchange is a consortium of leading research institutions and research sites all dedicated to increasing the influence of science on environmental policy, conservation, and natural resource management. The Exchange is affiliated with Harvard University and is based at the Harvard Forest.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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