Developing a set of carbon standards for power plants could benefit nearly all U.S. regions, according to a recently published study by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Syracuse University, Resources for the Future, and the Harvard Forest as a project of the Science Policy Exchange.

The carbon standards--which set relatively stringent emission targets and allow a high level of compliance flexibility--could accrue national net benefits of approximately $33 billion per year, based on estimated costs of $17 billion per year and projected total benefits of $50 billion for health and climate benefits. Published on open access academic journal PLOS ONE, the study is the first of its kind to break down the costs and benefits of such standards in every sub region of the U.S., which potentially amount to an annual benefit of $1 million for most counties across the nation.

Total annual co-benefits of moderately stringent, highly flexible carbon standards in 2020 (2010 USD)
Total annual co-benefits of moderately stringent, highly flexible carbon standards in 2020 (2010 USD)


“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, in a statement.

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. Results show that most counties would receive more than $1 million in health co-benefits before accounting for costs. Counties in the Northeast and Southwest are highest projected health co-benefit gains, while counties in the Mid-Atlantic, Ohio River Valley, and South-Central regions are likely to have the largest gain per capita.

Annual co-benefits per capita for 18 to 99 year-olds under moderately stringent, highly flexible carbon standards in 2020 (2010 USD).
Annual co-benefits per capita for 18 to 99 year-olds under moderately stringent, highly flexible carbon standards in 2020 (2010 USD).


After factoring in the cost of carbon standards, those same regions also would reap the greatest benefits, ranging from $1.7 billion to $5.6 billion. The Central Mid-Atlantic region would accrue the largest net benefits.

“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,” Syracuse University’s Civil and Environmental Engineering professor Charles Driscoll, co-author of the study, said in a statement.

View the full study here>>