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Study Says Carbon Dioxide Cutbacks Could Save 3,500 Lives a Year

The Obama administration's plan to reduce carbon dioxide from power plants will save about 3,500 lives a year, according to an independent study.
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/ Source: NBC News

The Obama administration's hotly debated plan to reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the nation's power plants will save about 3,500 lives a year by cutting back on other types of pollution as well, an independent study concludes.

The study calculates the decline in heart attacks and lung disease when soot and smog are reduced — an anticipated byproduct of the president's proposed power plant rule, which aims to fight global warming by limiting carbon dioxide emissions. Past studies have found that between 20,000 and 30,000 Americans die each year because of health problems from power plant air pollution, study authors and outside experts say.

The study, published Monday in Nature Climate Change, was presented by researchers from Syracuse University, Boston University, Harvard, Resources for the Future and Sonoma Technology.

The proposed EPA rule, which is not yet in its final form, is complex and tailored to different states. It aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Study authors said their research, while not hewing to the Obama plan exactly, is quite close and comparable.

The study finds that the rule would eliminate an average of 3,500 deaths a year — a range of lives saved from 780 to 6,100 — with more than 1,000 of the lives saved in just four states that get lots of pollution from coal power plants: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and Illinois. The new regulation would reduce hospitalizations by 1,000 a year and heart attacks by 220 a year, the study says.

Some in Congress have been trying to block the regulation from going into effect, calling the plan a job-killer and an example of government overreach.

"This is more than just an academic exercise to the tens of millions of Americans who depend on affordable, reliable electricity to power their homes and places of work every day," said Laura Sheehan, senior vice president for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. "For them, this is about their livelihoods."