Syracuse University and Harvard release carbon pollution study

May 29, 2014

The Environmental Protection Agency will be coming out with new proposals to cut down on carbon emissions from power plants next week. Researchers from Harvard and Syracuse University have joined forces to look at how reducing this kind of pollution impacts human health and the environment.

The study looked at three proposals and their impact on pollution, ranging from letting power plants control improvements on their own, to implementing a carbon tax. Syracuse University researcher Charles Driscoll says it’s the option in the middle that works best; a flexible option that would let states allow credits to power plants for using alternative energy sources.

"Every state in the lower 48 states would show some benefit in terms of health effects for air quality as well as benefits for ecosystem impacts on air quality," Driscoll said.

Driscoll says when using this option there were very large improvements in air quality in some cases.

“The message is, is that the strongest standard, and by that we mean both in terms of reduction in terms of carbon and flexibility -- giving the state’s the flexibility to do different things -- provides the greatest benefits in terms of air quality.”

Driscoll says flexibility is very important, because pollution presents itself differently in different parts of the country. States along the Ohio Valley, for example, have different air quality issues than states in the western United States.

He says he hopes decision makers pay attention to this report and subsequent studies that will be coming out as time goes on.

"One on human health, including the cost benefits associated with that, we’re working on now," Driscoll said. "The third, later in the summer, what are the ecosystem benefits in terms of improvements with crop production, tree health, and water quality benefits associated with these proposed rules.”

Improving air quality not only prevents premature deaths from heart attacks and decreases in the asthma rate, but also would limit ozone damage to trees and crops and the accumulation of toxic mercury in fish.

The new EPA proposals come out June 2.