Harvard/Syracuse Study: West Virginia Among Those to Benefit Most from Proposed Carbon Regulations

Jun 8, 2014

The Harvard School of Public Health together with Syracuse University released a study of potential air quality benefits based on the first-of-their-kind carbon dioxide emissions reduction proposal the Environmental Protection Agency revealed this month. According to researchers, West Virginia is among the state's to benefit most from the proposed rules.


When President Obama announced a year ago that there would be a program to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, Syracuse University professor of civil and environmental engineering Charles Driscoll started compiling several different policy options that the EPA would likely pursue.  From there he worked to predict how such policies would compare considering co-benefits of reductions in power plant emissions.

“The overall objective is to reduce carbon emissions from power plants," Driscoll said, "but associated with fossil fuel emissions, there are other air pollutants that are released such as sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxide, which contributes to ozone; and then some of these pollutants not only have health effects, but also have effects on ecosystems.”

Key Findings

  1. A strong carbon standard would decrease the emissions of multiple other pollutants that are harmful to people and the environment (e.g., SO2, NO x).
  2. As a result of lower emissions, states would experience improved air quality (e.g., fine particles) and less “atmospheric deposition” of pollution (e.g., acid rain). All states would see benefits, with the greatest average improvements in: OH, PA, MD, WV, IL, KY, MO, IN, CO, AL, AR, DE.
  3. A weaker standard limited to power plant retrofits “inside the fence line” would bring little if any additional air quality benefits for states.
  4. The results of our analysis suggest that the stronger the standards (in terms of both stringency and flexibility), the greater and more widespread the added benefits will be for people and the environment.

Health Benefits

In a 2014 report released by the American Lung Association, data indicates that while air pollution in West Virginia’s metropolitan areas has generally improved, there’s more ozone, or smog, in every country where it was measured. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection corroborates that, indicating that especially in northern counties like Marshall and Brooke, sulfur dioxide continues to be a problem because of proximity to power plants and other large industrial sources.

Health risks associated with air pollution include not only respiratory problems, but also cardiovascular, neurological, and developmental, just to name a few. Driscoll’s report has mapped out how much and where pollution levels are most likely to improve.

“So depending on how the policy is implemented, there could be substantial benefits for air quality, and certainly West Virginia falls into that category; there would be large benefits for West Virginia,” Driscoll said.

The same researchers are also planning to release a subsequent report later this summer that aims to quantify specific health benefits as well as associated cost savings.