Optimizing Emissions Reductions from the U.S. Power Sector for Climate and Health Benefits

Environ Sci Technol. 2020 Jun 16;54(12):7513-7523. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.9b06936. Epub 2020 May 27.


Improved air quality and human health are often discussed as "co-benefits" of mitigating climate change, yet they are rarely considered when designing or implementing climate policies. We analyze the implications of integrating health and climate when determining the best locations for replacing power plants with new wind, solar, or natural gas to meet a CO2 reduction target in the United States. We employ a capacity expansion model with integrated assessment of climate and health damages, comparing portfolios optimized for benefits to climate alone or both health and climate. The model estimates county-level health damages and accounts for uncertainty by using a range of air quality models (AP3, EASIUR, and InMAP) and concentration-response functions (American Cancer Society and Harvard Six Cities). We find that reducing CO2 by 30% yields $21-68 billion in annual health benefits, with an additional $9-36 billion possible when co-optimizing for climate and health benefits. Additional benefits accrue from prioritizing emissions reductions in counties with high population exposure. Total health benefits equal or exceed climate benefits across a wide range of modeling assumptions. Our results demonstrate the value of considering health in climate policy design and the need for interstate cooperation to achieve additional health benefits equitably.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants* / analysis
  • Air Pollution* / analysis
  • Air Pollution* / prevention & control
  • Cities
  • Climate Change
  • Humans
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • United States


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter