The cost of reducing carbon emissions has long been a contentious issue with supporters and critics of these policies. However, these regulations may actually be more cost effective than some originally thought.
A new study found that the monetary value of health benefits from cleaner air may offset the costs from U.S. policies regarding carbon emissions. Researchers at MIT analyzed three policies aimed at curbing carbon emissions in the U.S. and found that the savings from medical problems relating to poor air quality will outweigh the costs of these environmental policies.
In the study titled "A systems approach to evaluating the air quality co-benefits of US carbon policies," which was recently published in the journal "Nature Climate Change," researchers looked at the cost of three policies and compared them with the resulting health benefits. The policies included a clean-energy standard, transportation with strict fuel-economy requirements and a cap-and-trade program, which were all designed after propsed U.S. climate policies.
"If cost-benefit analyses of climate policies don't include the significant health benefits from healthier air, they dramatically underestimate the benefits of these policies," said the lead author of the study Tammy Thompson.
And that sure seems to be the case. At $14 billion, the cap-and-trade program is the cheapest policy to implement, and the healthcare costs avoided because of the program could add up to 10.5 times the cost of the policy. The transportation policy was the most expensive to implement at $1 trillion in 2006 dollars. Even though that seems like an exorbitant amount of money, about a quarter of its cost would be recouped from the health benefits gained as a result. The clean-energy standard landed right in the middle with health benefits of $247 billion outweighing the policy's cost of $208 billion.
The study looked at the impact of "ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter," which burning fossil fuels releases into the atmosphere. The presence of these chemicals in the air can cause asthma attacks and heart and lung disease, which can all lead to premature death.
The study has big implications for domestic carbon emissions policies in particular. While there have been recent studies that have shown "large co-benefits," this research shows them in the U.S., where the air quality is thought to be high compared to other countries, according to Gregory Nemet, a professor of public affairs and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison not involved in the study.
"Now that states are on the hook to come up with plans to meet federal emissions targets by 2016, you can bet they will take a close look at these results," Nemet said.
Whether it's here or abroad, environmental policy is a hot topic that seems to constantly make progress one minute, and then is moved two steps back. At the end of July, Australia repealed the tax implemented in 2012 to reduce carbon emissions. In early August, the Environmental Protection Agency's public hearing in Pittsburgh regarding its proposed rules to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants was met with demonstrations from union workers saying the regulations will take away jobs.
Like most political issues, environmental policy can be incredibly divisive. However, the prospect of actually saving money with carbon emissions policies may make some critics reconsider.