Study Describes Additional Economic Benefits of Clean Power Plan

(3BlLMedia/Justmeans) — In the weeks ahead, a new administration will take the reins of control in government. On their agenda is the dismantling of many of the environmental regulations put in place by the Obama administration. One of these, the Clean Power Plan, which was aimed at reducing carbon emissions from electric power plants, has been the target of multiple lawsuits by Scott Pruitt, former Attorney General of Oklahoma, who will soon head the EPA. It seems certain that Pruitt will do what he can to weaken this law, if not eliminate it entirely. The rationale is apparently economic, based on the idea that regulation costs businesses money rather than simply stimulating them to be more innovative.

Protecting public welfare has been the charter and mission of the EPA since its inception in 1973 under the Nixon administration. Research recently conducted jointly at Drexel, Syracuse, Boston and Harvard Universities, has shown a surprising number of the favorable impacts of the Clean Power Plan, beyond protecting the public.

Specifically, the study looked at the impact of the Plan on crops and trees. While the EPA acknowledged a positive impact on crops and trees when first assessing the impact of the Plan, it made no attempt to quantify it.

Fossil fuel plants emit a number of dangerous emissions. These include carbon, nitrogen and sulfur which combine to produce ground-level ozone. Ozone is a well-known inhibitor of plant growth. In modeling these reductions, the researchers found that they “would provide a significant boost to the productivity of key indicator crops, such as corn, cotton, soybean and potato; as well as several tree species.”

Therefore, controlling these emissions would result in higher yields of these crops and a better economic outcome.

Says, Shannon Capps, PhD, an assistant professor in Drexel's College of Engineering, one of the study’s authors, “With policies similar to those in the Clean Power Plan, we're projecting more than a 15 percent reduction in corn productivity losses due to ozone exposure, compared to business as usual, and about half of that for cotton and soybeans. Depending on market value fluctuations of these crops over the next few years, that could mean gains of tens of millions of dollars for farmers--especially in areas like the Ohio River Valley where power plants currently contribute to ground-level ozone."

The researchers deployed three scenarios. The first was quite similar to the Clean Power Plan, but also included demand-side energy efficiency, as well as substituting lower-emitting natural gas plants and zero-emitting solar and wind power into the energy mix. The second scenario put a price on carbon, and the third scenario was business as usual. That scenario showed a 1.5% decline in corn production. The carbon tax scenario, on the other hand, showed a reduction in the ozone-induced productivity loss for corn of 12.1%, for soybeans of 6.6% and 3.8% for cotton.

It was the first scenario, the one that closely followed the Clean Power Plan, that showed the largest reductions in ozone-caused productivity losses. These came in at 15.7% for corn production, while soybean losses would be reduced by 8.4 % and cotton losses cut by 6.7 percent.

The two tree species most sensitive to ozone, black cherry and eastern cottonwood also showed diminished harm in the Clean Power Plan scenario.

Says Charles Driscoll, PhD, of Syracuse University, another co-author, "Our work shows the importance of considering the co-benefits of our nation's energy policies going forward," said. "These benefits to people and plants are nearly immediate and occur in urban and rural communities across the U.S. We know from this and other studies that the economic value of the added benefits from power plant carbon standards are large and exceed the estimated cost of implementation."

The authors did not put an overall dollar value on these avoided losses.

The research will continue, looking at the impact of power plant carbon standards on haze and acid rain.