Claim: US counties could gain $1 million in annual health benefits from a power plant carbon standard

From the HARVARD T.H. CHAN SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH and the “it’s only a benefit until you don’t have any power at night or in the winter” department comes this gyration of a study. The authors seem to forget that it’s power plants that raised us up out of a tenuous existence as a mostly agrarian society. The number reminds me of this:


Boston, MA – Nearly all U.S. regions stand to gain economic benefits from power plant carbon standards that set moderately stringent emission targets and allow a high level of compliance flexibility, according to a new study by scientists from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Syracuse University, Resources for the Future, and the Harvard Forest, Harvard University as a project of the Science Policy Exchange.

The study was published today, June 7, 2016, in the open access journal PLOS ONE. The authors report large national net benefits of approximately $33 billion per year for the power plant carbon standard in the study, based on estimated costs of $17 billion per year and projected benefits of $29 billion for a subset of health co-benefits, and $21 billion for climate benefits.

While other studies have analyzed total national costs and benefits of power plant carbon standards, this is the first study of its kind to break down the costs and benefits by sub region for the entire U.S.

“We found that the health benefits would outweigh the estimated costs of the carbon standard in our study for 13 out of 14 power sector regions within five years of implementation–even though we only looked at a subset of the total benefits,” said lead author Jonathan Buonocore, Research Associate and Program Leader at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Chan School.

“With the full range of climate, health, and ecosystem benefits taken into account, we would expect that the net benefits would be even larger and that the benefits would outweigh costs in all regions within a year or two of implementation,” added co-author Dallas Burtraw, Darius Gaskins Senior Fellow at Resources for the Future.

Power plant carbon standards are aimed at curbing carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector to help address climate change. Depending on how the standards are designed, emissions of secondary pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter may also be reduced as a co-benefit of the policy–leading to improved air quality and associated health benefits such as fewer premature deaths, heart attacks, and hospitalizations from respiratory and cardiovascular impacts.

The study analyzed the anticipated health co-benefits of a power plant carbon standard that would achieve a 35% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 through cleaner fuels, energy efficiency, emissions trading, and other measures. In a previous study, the researchers projected that approximately 3,500 premature deaths and hundreds of heart attacks and hospitalizations would be avoided in the U.S. each year as a result of this carbon standard. In this new study, the researchers calculated the economic value of those health co-benefits for the nation as a whole by county. Then they compared those benefits to costs that they projected for 14 commonly used power grid regions to estimate net benefits by region.

The researchers found that the benefits would be widespread and, before accounting for costs, most counties would receive more than $1 million in health co-benefits annually from the carbon standard in the study. Counties in the Northeast and Southwest U.S. are projected to gain the largest health co-benefits. The Mid-Atlantic, Ohio River Valley, and South-Central regions of the U.S. are projected to gain the largest health co-benefits per capita (these regions correspond to the power grid regions PJME, PJMC, MISO, SERCC, SERCD, and ERCOT).

The researchers then used three different sets of economic assumptions to estimate the cost of the carbon standard for each of the 14 regions. The results show that the highest costs of $1.5 to $3.6 billion per year are projected for the Midwest (MISO and SERCG), Mid-Atlantic (PJME), and Southeast (SERCC and SERCSE) regions under the central cost case. Those same regions also have among the greatest benefits, ranging from $1.7 billion to $5.6 billion. The largest net benefits occur in the Central Mid-Atlantic region (PJMC).

“Our results suggest that net economic benefits from power plant carbon standards tend to be greatest in highly populated areas near or downwind from coal-fired power plants that experience a shift to cleaner sources with the standards,” said co-author Charles Driscoll, University Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Syracuse University.

The power plant carbon standards analyzed in this study are similar to, but not the same as, the Clean Power Plan introduced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on August 3, 2015. The standard in the study would achieve a 35% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector from 2005 levels by 2020. The costs and benefits were calculated as the difference from a business-as-usual case based on 2013 energy demand projections from the U.S. Department of Energy and Energy Information Administration. The U.S. EPA Clean Power Plan aims to achieve a 32% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030 and uses a business as usual case with updated energy demand, natural gas prices, and renewable and energy efficiency assumptions.


“An Analysis of Costs and Health Co-benefits for a U.S. Power Plant Carbon Standard,” Jonathan Buonocore, Kathleen F. Lambert, Dallas Burtraw, Samantha Sekar, Charles T. Driscoll, PLOS ONE, online June 7, 2016, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0156308.

View the study, including maps of benefits and costs, here:

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June 7, 2016 2:01 pm

1) The “climate benefits” are zero, or possibly less than zero if the previous article is to be believed.
2) The “health benefits” are 100% imaginary.
3) The cost ($17 billion) is under estimated by at least an order of magnitude.

Reply to  MarkW
June 7, 2016 2:47 pm

In a previous study, the researchers projected that approximately 3,500 premature deaths and hundreds of heart attacks and hospitalizations would be avoided in the U.S. each year as a result of this carbon standard.

[Bold was mine]
So there were no actual deaths attributed to CO2 emissions; just premature deaths? Where are the data that show how long each of those 3,500 would have actually lived had it not been for that e-e-e-vil CO2?
Those researchers are just guessing. CO2 causes you to exhale and then inhale and the secret to a long life, as my father once revealed to me, is just keep breathing. The direct cause of death is always cessation of breathing. Everything else just leads up to cessation of breathing. So who’s to say elevated CO2 didn’t extend those 3,500 lives?

Gunga Din
Reply to  H.R.
June 7, 2016 2:59 pm

CO2 doesn’t hold a candle to
(You want the package to be accepted? It’s all in how you wrap it.)

Reply to  H.R.
June 7, 2016 4:07 pm

Di-hydrogen monoxide? Nah, the really deadly stuff is hydroxylic acid!

Reply to  H.R.
June 7, 2016 5:46 pm

It’s worse than you think:
“Depending on how the standards are designed, emissions of secondary pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter may also be reduced as a co-benefit of the policy–leading to improved air quality and associated health benefits such as fewer premature deaths, heart attacks, and hospitalizations from respiratory and cardiovascular impacts.”
They derived their health benefits by the reduction of real pollutants, that reduction being a ‘by-product’ of the proposed CO2 standards. CO2 benefits are seemingly limited to climate improvements, which are impossible to evaluate with any credibility. That begs the question, why don’t we just tighten the standards for the real pollutants if it meets cost-benefit requirements?

Reply to  H.R.
June 7, 2016 11:27 pm

Jtom , exactly. All these claimed health benefits are nothing to do with CO2 emissions. They are REAL pollution. So if we stopped screwing around with AGW the same health benefits could be attained for a fraction of the cost by directly addressing REAL pollutants, rather attempted to tack them into CO2 emissions rules.

Reply to  H.R.
June 8, 2016 1:57 pm

“that reduction being a ‘by-product’ of the proposed CO2 standards”
The “VW scandal” is the increase of a real pollutant (NOx) correlated with the decrease of a “pollutant” (CO2) mandated by regulations: in order to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 output, the combustion is run at higher temp resulting in more nitrogen oxydation.
So pretty much the exact opposite has already happened, and will happen even more if CO2 capture is actually done at coal plants.

Reply to  H.R.
June 9, 2016 3:00 pm

This study is insane claiming CO2 is causing deaths. The trace gas CO2 is Required for life! Also, trying to do a control test for 3,500 pre-mature deaths nationally is not possible. This is just far-left propaganda for people with simple minds.

Reply to  MarkW
June 7, 2016 2:58 pm

That’s a great return Spend $17 billion+++++++++and get $1 million in annual health benefits. That’s green math for you. The rentseekers will never stop until grant money is ended.

Reply to  TG
June 7, 2016 3:50 pm

At least you get something back from our benevolent overlords. That’s highly unusual right there.
Wait up! That’s $1 million in health benefits, you say? Not actual money?!?
Whew! For a minute there I thought our ruling elites in Washington D.C. had lost it.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  TG
June 7, 2016 10:10 pm

… most counties would receive more than $1 million in health co-benefits …
The United States has 3,007 counties and 137 county equivalents for a total of 3,144 counties and county equivalents.
Still, this is a stupid statement/study. LA County has over 10M people. A county in Texas has about 100.

Reply to  TG
June 8, 2016 2:09 pm

What about the impact of increased lifetimes on pensions?

Lawrence Ayres
Reply to  MarkW
June 7, 2016 3:41 pm

I was a farmer and an army officer and so dealt in facts all my life. I made little so how come these folk deal in myth and conjecture and qualify for fame, fortune and grants. I do hope Donald gets in and stops some or all of this rot.

Reply to  MarkW
June 7, 2016 4:00 pm

Looks like their ‘model’ plans to save people who would never have been sick.
At this rate, we’ll never die, on paper.

Reply to  ATheoK
June 8, 2016 6:39 am

I don’t plan to die on paper, I plan on dying in bed.

Reply to  ATheoK
June 8, 2016 8:51 am

Not in the renewable modeled world, MarkW.
We’ll live on in their paperwork; unproven. They’re counting on never having to certify or verify their numbers.

Reply to  MarkW
June 8, 2016 9:14 am

I wonder if they included the numerous health benefits which would be realized under a Socialist Government that controls everything including carbon emissions. Current example here:

Reply to  MarkW
June 9, 2016 3:44 am

Step 1: Impose “moderately stringent” new operating restrictions on some power generators.
Step 2: ???
Step 3: $$$!

June 7, 2016 2:15 pm

We are back to the silly “linear, no lower threshold” studies which certainly don’t apply to CO2 or to particulate counts lower than current standards. Those asthma and heart health statistic extrapolations to near zero levels are meaningless.
When you base your paper on “national” study that used “bogus” assumptions, the regional results are also going to be garbage.

Tsk Tsk
Reply to  George Daddis
June 7, 2016 4:05 pm

Yup, so now have the authors calculate how many deaths the EPA caused by the King mine toxic releases…
Oops, we don’t like those numbers so much.

June 7, 2016 2:24 pm

So CO2 causes Heart Attacks?
Or are they talking about the real pollution such as particulates and other gases?

Reply to  rogerthesurf
June 7, 2016 3:28 pm

There isn’t much (any?) evidence that particulates (PM2.5) are deadly either.

June 7, 2016 2:34 pm

“In a previous study, the researchers projected that approximately 3,500 premature deaths and hundreds of heart attacks and hospitalizations would be avoided in the U.S. each year as a result of this carbon standard.”
Impossible, CO2 cannot cause these problems. What they mean is that a byproduct of CO2 reduction is the particulate health benefits (and there’s some doubt about that). Why not simply look at the cost/benefit of reducing the health risks (i.e. real pollution”), vs. the enormous costs of reducing pollution indirectly. This bait and switch approach makes me sick – how can these guys pretend to be scientists and come up with this deceptive junk?
BTW, see earlier posts about social cost of carbon being way overestimated – all these models (“business as usual”), rely on crazy values for climate sensitivity in pathways that aren’t going to happen. Just junk, pure and simple.

Reply to  Taylor Pohlman
June 8, 2016 12:51 am

Exactly right.
I would add that here in the UK we actually made the health risks worse by confounding CO2 and pollutants.
Cars were taxed less if they gave higher miles per gallon. More miles to your CO2, you see.
So diesel cars sold far better than petrol vehicles – the tax regime was an enticement.
But diesel cars emit far more NOx and particulates then petrol cars..
The result is that pollution has increased in UK urban areas.
All because they targeted CO2 instead of pollution.

Billy Liar
Reply to  MCourtney
June 8, 2016 7:06 am

The NOx is needed to deal with those VOC’s, terpenes, isoprenes, etc emitted by trees. Unfortunately, ozone is the result.
Might be a good idea to ban trees; it would solve the tree pollen problem as well!

June 7, 2016 2:36 pm

Whatever health benefits would come from SO2 and NOX, not CO2, but the study somehow conflates CO2 with other emissions. That is, if there would be any benefits from reducing what are already low levels of pollution. About as valid a study if the derived figures by POOMA.

Reply to  Tom Halla
June 8, 2016 2:33 pm

“but the study somehow conflates CO2 with other emissions”
It’s proxy all the way: temperature proxies, pollutant proxies, proxy regulation. The “consensus” is a proxy for the truth.
And politicians believe they are proxies for scientists!
Proxy, proxy, proxy, everywhere!

June 7, 2016 2:37 pm

George: “When you base your paper on “national” study that used “bogus” assumptions, the regional results are also going to be garbage.”
Exactly. The costs are all too real, the benefits are intangible (at least to those paying the costs).

June 7, 2016 2:39 pm

“the derived figures by POOMA” – you’ve got the first three letters of that acronym right – pure POO.

Robert W Turner
June 7, 2016 2:51 pm

Have we reached the Nu Dark Age of science?

Gunga Din
June 7, 2016 2:53 pm

How often has it been assumed that restricting others from doing this or that will have no impact on themselves?
The proposal may sound good but, if implemented, it sure ain’t gonna “feel good”.

June 7, 2016 3:09 pm

academic incest – or this guy needs to get out more and it couldn’t be group-think
Jonathan Buonocore, Research Associate and Program Leader at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Chan School
“Jonathan received his doctoral degree from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; his dissertation work included developing a model that simulates the environmental and public health benefits of renewable energy installations and electrical efficiency measures. Jonathan also holds a Master of Science in Industrial Hygiene from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and Policy from Clarkson University”.

June 7, 2016 3:53 pm

Atmospheric CO2 concentration is currently hovering around 400ppm. Submariners are routinely exposed to 800ppm. Why aren’t they all dead?

Reply to  jolan
June 7, 2016 4:15 pm

According to the study, they’ll all die prematurely, jolan. The researchers could be nice guys and tell submariners the date of their death if they opt out of submarine service. After all, how would you know someone died prematurely unless you know the date of their death in advance?
A 5-year old kid darts out in the street and dies after being hit by a car. Did the child die prematurely or was the child’s time up here on earth? And if drivers and kids became more careful, would there be fewer premature deaths or would those kids die at the same age from other causes because their time on earth was up?

Reply to  jolan
June 7, 2016 4:16 pm

… because CO2 is lighter underwater.
; )

Reply to  jolan
June 7, 2016 5:54 pm

DON’T PERFORM MOUTH-TO-MOUTH RESUSCITATION ON ANY WARMISTS! Any idea what the level of CO2 is in exhaled breath? If they don’t instantly die from an extreme panic attack, they mayl file attempted murder charges against you.

Reply to  jolan
June 8, 2016 2:35 am

According to my Google sources its not 800 but 8000ppm in a Russian Submarine.

Reply to  Ken Calvert.
June 8, 2016 6:28 am

It’s even more in a Yellow submarine, where we all live…..

Reasonable Skeptic
June 7, 2016 4:52 pm

I wonder at how stupid people truly are.
What is the cost of switching everybody from cars to bicycles for their daily commute?
– # of people commuting, average distance, average time converted from cars to bicycles. How much longer vs average wage.
I bet the cost would be staggering and that is just a simple switch.

June 7, 2016 5:15 pm

All the fun of getting paid to play with computer models. First, they have zero evidence of any mature or premature deaths from CO2 emissions or atmospheric concentration. Since life expectancy has increased as atmospheric CO2 has increased,then the death theory seems a bit weak. The arguments seem to go with CO2 reduction has accompanying reductions in criteria pollutants, so, we can save lives. This begs the question the really smart people ignore. Criteria pollutant rates in the US have decreased by almost 70% over the past 30 or so years. PM2.5 emissions have decreased by about 40% over the past 20 or so years. Do we see a decrease in so-called premature deaths or respiratory diseases? Asthma rates seem to be going up.
3,500 premature deaths a year could be avoided. Something in the range of 0.001% of the population. They have no data showing any premature deaths from CO2 or criteria pollutants and then they propose to save a lives at a rate that can’t be detected from the statistical noise. How about showing us the bodies now before we keep putting money down this rat hole?

Reply to  Bob Greene
June 7, 2016 7:06 pm

“Asthma rates seem to be going up…”. There is some evidence in the literature that the rise in Asthma is directly related to the lack of exposure to environmental irritating factors at a young age, where tolerance to dirt, dust, pollen, etc. is not built up as it was in the “bad old days”. Children raised in essentially sterile environments (think indoors with those HEPA filters going…) never develop resistance to such pollutants and are more susceptible to such irritants later on in life.
There’s not an overwhelming agreement on this notion, but it would explain a lot, and is absolutely ironic relative to the idea of reducing pollutants below any reasonable health threat level. Ironic in that it’s being responsible for increasing asthma. If true, then the more pollutant reduction, the more asthma, “its worse than we thought”.

Dave Wendt
Reply to  Taylor Pohlman
June 7, 2016 9:16 pm

Back when I was doing my transition from rugrat to yard ape to car yeti much more than half the adult population smoked cigarettes and they smoked them just about everywhere, except for in church or at funerals and a few other rare exceptions. I’m almost certain there were a number of asthmatic kids around in those days but I can honestly claim that I really don’ t recall a single incident of the kind of wheezing attacks that seem to be common place amongst children nowadays. I suspect that, if you shook down the student body of a typical suburban middle school, you could easily fill a large wastebasket or maybe a half a garbage can full of inhalers even though most of the students probably have rarely, if ever, been exposed to an actual adult smoking a cigarette.
Industrial and vehicular pollution has also been greatly reduced from those times, so if we embrace the modern scientific mode, in which some sort of apparent correlation is prima facie evidence for any hypothesis, we should be able to declare this premise to have graduated to “consensus” status.
Perhaps Woody Allen was truly prescient in his movie where he emerges from suspended animation to a world where the running gag is how brain dead we folks from the past were to be so wrong about tobacco being bad for us.

June 7, 2016 5:17 pm

I hope they have included a list of the names of the people in my county whose lives they are going to save. I wonder if I’m on the list.

June 7, 2016 5:23 pm

‘This policy scenario allows for the use of different compliance mechanisms, including demand-side energy efficiency’
Uhhh . . . the New, Improved, Green Deal II !!!
It has been tried. It has failed.
BUT, now they will use a ‘compliance mechanism.’ You will get far more compliance with a roll of insulation and a gun than with a roll of insulation alone.

June 7, 2016 7:35 pm

They will just continue to make up evidence and bogus studies to perpetuate their mythology. It’s amazing to watch, and if it wasn’t so expensive and wasteful and destructive it would be funny. But it’s not.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  scribblerg
June 8, 2016 4:53 am

Not to mention by doing this they don’t have to go out and get a real job.

Reply to  Tom in Florida
June 8, 2016 5:22 am

Ya, I’ve come to realize that I underestimate the careerism at work in both govt hacks and academics. Many of them would be making the rest of us lattes if they had to actually compete in the private sector.

June 8, 2016 4:30 am

We know the cost of building and operating nuclear power plants and that they have no negative health effects. How does the cost of replacing all carbon-based power plants with nuclear plants compare to the claimed health benefits work.?
This would be called a cost-benefit analysis.

Joe - the climate scientiest
June 8, 2016 6:55 am

Amazing – marginal cost/marginal benefit laws have been overturned.
Each incremental improvement in air quality produces an even larger incremental benefit in health.

June 8, 2016 9:41 am

Nukes, baby, nukes.

June 8, 2016 1:10 pm

Given the track record of those who make these prognostications concerning consequences of climate-related activities, the chances of this forecast being even in the right ball park are zero.

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