The Climate and Health Effects of a USA Switch From Coal to Gas
Roger Lueken, Kelly Klima, W. Michael Griffin, Jay Apt
Abundant natural gas at low prices has prompted industry and politicians to welcome gas as a 'bridge fuel' between today's coal intensive power and a future low-carbon grid. We use existing national datasets and publicly available models to examine how a shift from coal to natural gas will affect climate change and damages to human health. Climate benefits of a USA coal-to-gas switch are limited. Even at a low fugitive methane emissions rate, a full switch from coal to gas provides only a few months' delay in reaching greenhouse gas levels that lead to dangerous climate impacts. On the other hand, human health benefits are substantial: reduced emissions of harmful criteria pollutants would further reduce annual health damages by
~$40 billion from anticipated 2015 levels. However, the costs of building and operating new gas plants likely exceed the health benefits; retrofitting coal plants with emission control technology is likely to be more cost effective. While human health in the United States can greatly benefit from policies that continue the switch from coal to gas, natural gas should not sidetrack policy from the goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
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