Experts say estimations of how Americans' health could improve with lowered emissions are accurate. President Barack Obama on Monday formally announced a plan that calls for cutting power sector carbon emission by 32% from 2005 levels.
The Environmental Protection Agency touted the health benefits that would result from implementation of the Clean Power Program.
The American Lung Association agreed. In a statement posted on the organization's website, CEO Harold Wimmer said the regulations would result in significant health benefits.
“Consider those most at risk: infants, children, older adults, people with lung disease, people with cardiovascular disease or diabetes, people with low income and anyone who works outdoors,” he said. “They are the ones who must rush to the emergency room when they cannot breathe because of worsened ozone pollution during a heat wave, or when smoke blows into their yard from wildfires across state lines.”
Dr. Cary Sennett, CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, said the organization doesn't have estimated statistics for how the Clean Power Plan would help people who have asthma, but believes the numbers from the EPA and White House are reasonable and credible.
The plan would improve air quality and therefore reduce the triggers of asthma that cause people to have exacerbated episodes, he said.
That would lead to fewer emergency room visits and fewer days away from work or school, he said.
Jonathan Buonocore, who is a research associate at the Center for Health and Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health, co-authored an article published in the May issue of Nature Climate Change. It studied the potential health benefits of carbon emission standards for U.S. power plants.
Buonocore said there are two main ways the standards could improve health: one is by reducing the effects of climate change, thereby decreasing deadly extreme weather events like hurricanes and heat waves and mitigating water and food security issues; the other is through an improvement in everyday air quality that would reduce premature deaths, heart attacks, asthma and stroke.
“The nice thing about these co-benefits is (that) you get them immediately,” he said.
The Nature Climate Change blog post looked at three scenarios for carbon emission standard regulation. The first scenario imagined modest reductions at existing individual power plants and resulted in the smallest amount of health benefit.
The third scenario examined a more market-based approach, mimicking a national tax on carbon. It showed lower health benefits than the second scenario, which most closely matches the proposed Clean Power Plan.
The health benefits from the second scenario included 3,500 premature deaths avoided annually, as well as 1,000 hospitalizations avoided, and 220 heart attacks avoided, the paper showed.
The White House and the EPA say that by 2030, the Clean Power Plan would prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 non-fatal heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks in children and 300,000 missed days of work and school. These numbers come from a regulatory impact analysis the EPA performed of the final rule.
Buonocore said those numbers sound plausible to him.
The health benefits, however, will depend on whether and how the Clean Power Plan is implemented. Some states have said they will refuse to comply. Enforcement will also depend on who next occupies the Oval Office.
Republican candidates have blasted the plan as too costly and a job killer, while Democratic presidential hopefuls praised the plan and said they would defend it.
Buonocore said it would be difficult to study health benefits of partial implementation. Overall health benefits are also subject to what climate change prevention measures other countries take.
“The benefits of that are very much contingent on what everybody else does,” he said.