US power plant carbon standards and clean air and health co-benefits


Carbon dioxide emissions standards for US power plants will influence the fuels and technologies used to generate electricity, alter emissions of pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, and influence ambient air quality and public health. We present an analysis of how three alternative scenarios for US power plant carbon standards could change fine particulate matter and ozone concentrations in ambient air, and the resulting public health co-benefits. The results underscore that carbon standards to curb global climate change can also provide immediate local and regional health co-benefits, but the magnitude depends on the design of the standards. A stringent but flexible policy that counts demand-side energy efficiency towards compliance yields the greatest health benefits of the three scenarios analysed.

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Figure 1: Comparison of each scenario and the proposed US EPA Clean Power Plan by SO2 and NOx averted, and premature deaths avoided, per tonne of CO2 averted.
Figure 2: Maps for the continental USA of difference in annual average concentrations of PM2.5 in 2020 for scenarios 1 and 2, less the reference scenario.
Figure 3: Maps for the continental USA of difference in annual average concentrations of peak summertime O3 in 2020 for scenarios 1 and 2, less the reference scenario.
Figure 4: Change in premature deaths avoided for states of the continental USA from the 2020 reference case for scenarios 1 and 2.


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Financial support for this work was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Grantham Foundation and Mistra's Indigo Program. The authors thank colleagues M. Weiss, K. Driscoll, M. Hale, J. Macedonia, S. Pan, S. Sekar and S. Yeh.

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Correspondence to Charles T. Driscoll.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Driscoll, C., Buonocore, J., Levy, J. et al. US power plant carbon standards and clean air and health co-benefits. Nature Clim Change 5, 535–540 (2015).

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