Nav: Home

People aren't the only beneficiaries of power plant carbon standards

January 04, 2017

When the Environmental Protection Agency finalized the Clean Power Plan in 2015 it exercised its authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions to protect public welfare. The Plan, now the focus of escalating debate, also put the nation on course to meet its goals under the Paris Climate Agreement. Given that other pollutants are emitted from power plants--along with carbon dioxide--research has shown that carbon emission standards for the power sector benefit human health. New research released today shows that they would also benefit crops and trees.

The study, "Estimating Potential Productivity Co-Benefits For Crops and Trees From Reduced Ozone With U.S. Coal Power Plan Carbon Standards," was recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres and authored by researchers from Drexel University, Syracuse University, Boston University, and Harvard University, convened by the Science Policy Exchange. It is the first study to model the ecosystem impact of contrasting policies, one of which was similar to the Clean Power Plan.

"In assessing the regulatory impact of the Clean Power Plan the EPA estimated monetary benefits of reduced carbon-dioxide emissions, as well as quantifying and monetizing certain public health benefits, such as reduction in premature mortality and morbidity due to particulate matter or ozone exposure," the researchers write. "The EPA did not quantify the co-benefits to crops and trees but treated these co-benefits qualitatively."

According to the study, which included an option similar to the Clean Power Plan, the corresponding reduction in carbon, nitrogen and sulfur emissions from coal power plants would also mean a decrease in ground-level ozone--a known inhibitor of plant growth. And by modeling these reductions in the year 2020, the researchers found that they would provide a significant boost to the productivity of key indicator crops, such as corn, cotton, soybean and potato; as well as several tree species.

"Our findings suggest that crops like corn, soybeans and cotton could benefit from substantial productivity gains under moderate carbon standards for power plants," said Shannon Capps, PhD, an assistant professor in Drexel's College of Engineering and an author of the study. "With policies similar to those in the Clean Power Plan, we're projecting more than a 15 percent reduction in corn productivity losses due to ozone exposure, compared to business as usual, and about half of that for cotton and soybeans. Depending on market value fluctuations of these crops over the next few years, that could mean gains of tens of millions of dollars for farmers--especially in areas like the Ohio River Valley where power plants currently contribute to ground-level ozone."

The team used three policy scenarios that encompass a range of emissions targets and reductions measures, and they compared each policy scenario with a "business-as-usual" reference case that represents current clean air policies, as well as energy demand and market projections.

Then, using a computer model widely employed to help guide state-level decision making for compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, the group generated a detailed projection of what the surface-layer ozone would look like across the country under each policy scenario through 2020.

The team looked at the consequences of lower ozone for five crops whose primary growing season is June through August, which is the period when ground-level ozone is known to be at its peak. They also evaluated the consequences for 11 tree species, including eastern cottonwood, black cherry, quaking aspen and several species of pine. These crops and trees have been used as standard indicators in environmental research. Based on previous research by crop and tree scientists, the team could relate their models' ozone-exposure findings to the productivity of crop and tree species.

"The option most similar to the Clean Power Plan has the greatest estimated productivity gains for the crops and trees that we studied," said Capps. "The improvement in crop yield and tree growth was strongly tied to the level of carbon dioxide emissions reductions and adoption of cleaner energy achieved by the policy."

Under the business-as-usual scenario, the productivity of soybean, potatoes, and cotton is reduced about 1.5 percent, with only slight impacts on corn. These levels of production only slightly improve under a policy scenario that includes only "inside the fenceline measures" such as improving the efficiency of coal-fired power plants.

A second scenario, that most closely resembles the Clean Power Plan and includes demand-side energy efficiency, substituting lower-emitting natural gas plants and zero-emitting solar and wind power into the energy mix--produces larger results. The potential corn production lost to ozone exposure in the reference scenario is reduced by 15.7 percent, soybean losses are reduced by 8.4 percent and cotton losses are diminished by 6.7 percent.

Under the third scenario, which reflects putting a price on carbon, and achieves similar emissions reductions as the second scenario, the researchers project slightly lower reductions in ozone-induced losses for corn (12.1 percent), soybean (6.6 percent) and cotton (3.8 percent).

Productivity among tree species, as measured in biomass yield compared to the reference scenario, also suggests that the plants will benefit from ozone-reducing policies. The tree species with the greatest potential for productivity losses, black cherry and eastern cottonwood, show 7.6 and 8.4 percent reductions in the projected ozone-induced biomass reductions, respectively, under the scenario most like the Clean Power Plan.

"Our work shows the importance of considering the co-benefits of our nation's energy policies going forward," said Charles Driscoll, PhD, professor at Syracuse University and co-author of the study. "These benefits to people and plants are nearly immediate and occur in urban and rural communities across the U.S. We know from this and other studies that the economic value of the added benefits from power plant carbon standards are large and exceed the estimated cost of implementation."

Members of the team are also analyzing the co-benefits of power plant carbon standards for reducing regional haze and acid rain and conducting new research on the co-benefits of the final clean power plan as compared to different energy policy futures.
-end-
Results of the study are accessible at: http://modelingair.com/croptreecobenefits.

Drexel University

Related Ozone Articles:

Investigating the causes of the ozone levels in the Valderejo Nature Reserve
The UPV/EHU's Atmospheric Research Group (GIA) has presented a database comprising over 60 volatile organic compounds (VOC) measured continuously over the last ten years in the Valderejo Nature Reserve (Álava, Basque Country).
FSU Research: Despite less ozone pollution, not all plants benefit
Policies and new technologies have reduced emissions of precursor gases that lead to ozone air pollution, but despite those improvements, the amount of ozone that plants are taking in has not followed the same trend, according to Florida State University researchers.
Iodine may slow ozone layer recovery
Air pollution and iodine from the ocean contribute to damage of Earth's ozone layer.
Ozone threat from climate change
We know the recent extreme heat is something that we can expect more of as a result of increasing temperatures due to climate change.
Super volcanic eruptions interrupt ozone recovery
Strong volcanic eruptions, especially when a super volcano erupts, will have a strong impact on ozone, and might interrupt the ozone recovery processes.
How severe drought influences ozone pollution
From 2011 to 2015, California experienced its worst drought on record, with a parching combination of high temperatures and low precipitation.
New threat to ozone recovery
A new MIT study, published in Nature Geoscience, identifies another threat to the ozone layer's recovery: chloroform -- a colorless, sweet-smelling compound that is primarily used in the manufacturing of products such as Teflon and various refrigerants.
Ozone hole modest despite optimum conditions for ozone depletion
The ozone hole that forms in the upper atmosphere over Antarctica each September was slightly above average size in 2018, NOAA and NASA scientists reported today.
Increased UV from ozone depletion sterilizes trees
UC Berkeley paleobotanists put dwarf, bonsai pine trees in growth chambers and subjected them to up to 13 times the UV-B radiation Earth experiences today, simulating conditions that likely existed 252 million years ago during the planet's worst mass extinction.
Ozone at lower latitudes is not recovering, despite Antarctic ozone hole healing
The ozone layer -- which protects us from harmful ultraviolet radiation -- is recovering at the poles, but unexpected decreases in part of the atmosphere may be preventing recovery at lower latitudes.
More Ozone News and Ozone Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.