New Report Shows Health Benefits Of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

Jan 17, 2017

A new report argues the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has positively impacted the health of residents across the Northeast.

The “Analysis of the Public Health Impacts of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative 2009-2014” issued by Abt Associates found that RGGI benefitted public health “including avoiding hundreds of premature deaths and tens of thousands of lost work days.”  It charts a cumulative $5.7 billion in health and productivity benefits in every participating state and certain neighboring states. New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maine, Delaware and Maryland make up RGGI. The study finds RGGI resulted in an estimated 300 to 830 avoided adult deaths; 13,000 to 16,000 avoided respiratory illnesses and 35 to 390 avoided heart attacks.

Abt Associates conducted the independent analysis.  Lead author Michelle Manion explains it is one of a series of reports called the RGGI Project that assesses the various impacts of the program.  “The focus on health is a really key one.  The intuition behind it is that when you’re reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel plants you’re also creating reductions in other air pollutants. And so this is really the first kind-of retrospective study meaning backwards looking at an actual program’s performance to explore to what degree air pollutants were reduced in addition to greenhouse gas emissions.”

Manion notes that air quality has been improving in the Northeast for decades due to a variety of factors including the federal Clean Air Act and changes in the electricity market.   “That was really the trickiest part of this analysis was isolating the direct contribution of this particular program amidst all the other things that are happening at the same time.  And so we relied upon modeling of the electricity market that really had kind-of two different scenarios. And the first scenario was looking at what actually happened in the market which did include the RGGI program. And we also had results of a scenario that looked at everything else being equal but removing the aspects of the RGGI program.  So we had these two kind-of scenarios to compare and contrast to tell us exactly what RGGI’s incremental contribution to air quality was.”

Environmental Advocates of New York Executive Director Peter Iwanowitz notes that power plant pollution is known to create health problems.   “What is very intriguing to me however is that a program that is focused in on climate change and the climate pollution has generated so much positive health benefits.  That means that not only is the carbon getting reduced from these power plants that the efficiency of the plants has gone up in such a way to reduce other harmful gasses, toxic emissions like mercury, soot that’s related to fine particulate matter and acid rain, as well as the smog precursors that relates to the summertime haze that is a big powerful respiratory irritant.”

Environment New York Research and Policy Center Campaign Organizer Melanie Perl notes that the air in the state is getting cleaner because steps have been taken to clean up pollution especially from power plants.  The new report shows that greenhouse gas pollution has fallen via RGGI while saving lives.  With reservations about potential national environmental policies, Perl says the group is asking New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to create statewide policies that would cut pollution twice as fast.   “The governor actually proposed to reduce our regional limit on global warming pollution from power plants by 30 percent. You know that’s a step definitely in the right direction but we can and must do more faster especially with that new incoming administration.”

Link to the report:   http://abtassociates.com/RGGI