Academics give boost to Obama climate rule

Getty Images

The Obama administration’s proposed carbon limits for power plants could prevent 3,500 deaths per year, a new academic study says.

The research from Syracuse University and Harvard University was published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, and is being billed as the first peer-reviewed scientific research into the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) landmark climate rule.

“If EPA sets strong carbon standards, we can expect large public health benefits from cleaner air almost immediately after the standards are implemented,” Jonathan Buonocore, a research fellow at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and a co-author of the paper, said in a statement.

The findings lend new support to the Obama administration, Democrats, environmentalists and other backers of the rule, who have argued that it would improve public health in addition to helping combat climate change.

While researchers say there would be public health benefits from the rules, there is uncertainty about how much.

The regulation would yield the biggest benefits if states choose to implement the regulation in ways that promote cleaner fuels and reduce demand for power through energy efficiency. Under that scenario, anywhere from 780 to 6,100 deaths could be avoided each year, along with more than 1,000 heart attacks and hospitalizations.

But if states focused instead on upgrading coal-fired power plants, they would not get similar health benefits, and might actually see detrimental health effects, since the improved plants would run more, the study found.

The most likely outcome, researchers said, is a mixture of state strategies that results in around 3,500 prevented deaths per year.

The carbon rule, which will be made final this summer, aims to cut the power sector’s carbon output nationally by 30 percent. Each state has been assigned a specific goal for cutting emissions.

Republicans and industry groups have challenged the claims about projected benefits of the regulation. Some conservative states are fighting the rule in court, and critics such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellRubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump Pelosi blasts GOP leaders for silence on Trump Reid: Groping accusations show Trump’s ‘sickness’ MORE (R-Ky.) have urged states to avoid compliance.

The coal industry said the Harvard and Syracuse researchers did not adequately consider the health-related harms the climate rule would bring through reduced electric reliability and higher energy costs.

“We know that taking coal power offline will lead to electricity disruptions including blackouts, brownouts and rationing,” Laura Sheehan, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said in a statement.

“These disruptions are not just nuisances; they jeopardize hospital and emergency care, city sanitation systems and regular commerce.”