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Reducing carbon emissions could save lives, prevent heart attacks, new research shows
New research has provided a boost to supporters of the EPA's proposed reduction in carbon emissions from the coal industry. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
Cutting power plant carbon emissions saves lives, according to new research on the way pollution affects public health. The study (paywall), published this week, will become a key talking point for supporters of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's latest proposal for carbon pollution standards.

Researchers who began their work before the EPA announced its plans and said it was just a coincidence for the study to match up with the proposed standards determined that reduced carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants could prevent around 3,500 premature deaths per year and more than 1,000 heart attacks and hospitalizations from air-pollution-related illness, The New York Times reported.

Supporters of the proposed EPA standards would likely cite even one life saved as a reason to move ahead with the plan, but its detractors are unconvinced, given the other consequences of stricter restrictions on the coal industry, which include lost jobs and higher industry costs.

"The administration is gambling with the livelihoods of hardworking Americans and is threatening to tip our country over the edge in costly and unreliable energy policies. And once we go over that ledge, there's no coming back up," said Laura Sheehan, senior vice president of communications for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, to U.S. News & World Report. She and others worry poorer Americans will be disproportionately harmed by the EPA's plan.

The new study compared potential outcomes of three different strategies to reduce emissions, using Census Bureau data and maps of fossil-fuel power plants to make predictions, the Times noted.

Compared to implementing a carbon tax or revamping existing power plants, the EPA's proposed plan, which involves restrictions on emissions and enhancing energy efficiency, provides the largest boost to public health, the study found.

"The health benefits of the rule would be indirect," however, the Times reported. Lowering carbon emissions slows the process of global warming, which scientists, as well as The White House, link to harmful health outcomes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, climate change indirectly by causing temperature increases and severe weather events can lead to heightened rates of respiratory illnesses, storm-related injuries and deaths, allergies and heat-related deaths.

Under the EPA's proposed plan, carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants could be cut by as much as 30 percent by 2030, compared with 2005 levels, The Washington Post reported last summer. Existing plants were targeted because of their age and relative inefficiency compared to newer developments.

The current proposal will allow states to design their own plans to meet lowered carbon emissions standards, the Times noted.
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