The Staggering Economic Costs For Air Pollution
The damage, caused in 2011 by air pollution, was 131 billion dollars as reported by an analysis. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but a few years earlier, in 2002, that bill was in the 175 billion dollar range, which means, in some ways, the 131 billion was an improvement.
The comparison of these two numbers show the success of the tighter controls given to emissions regulations. It also points, of course, to enforcement that continues to crack down on this situation.
Paulina Jaramillo, an assistant professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, conducted this study and stated that the most of these costs were on health impacts. The model she used placed a monetary value, or ‘Social Cost’ on the offending emissions and computed that cost per unit of a given pollutant. The calculations can then be used to identify monetary damages over a given time period.
That analysis was published in the journal Energy Policy and showed an up to date model, used by The EPA dealing with the emissions in question, which came from the energy sector. The goal of this study was to estimate the costs form energy production between 2002 and 2011.
This paper is a part of a 40 year chain of research into quantifying human health damage that is attributable to air pollution. Jason Hill, an associate professor of bioproducts and biosystems engineering with the University of Minnesota mentioned that this paper was “..another one in a long progression” of studies that attempt to accomplish this. He was not involved in the study.
The researchers used four key sectors involved in energy production as their focus: Oil and gas extraction, Electric power generation, Oil refining and coal mining. The five emissions they were concerned with were nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, ammonia, volatile organic compounds and fine particulate matter. This data is updated every three years by the EPA, so the years 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2011 were looked at and the costs were expressed in 2000 dollars.
The model they used indicated that the damages associated with these emissions were higher, by far, tan what has previously been estimated by the National Academy of Sciences.
Professor Jaramillo said there was a decreasing trend, going from the 175 billion to about 131 billion during the time studied. It probably means that the stricter emissions standards have done what they were designed to do.
The policy changes over the last decade, she says, contributed to this drop off in pollution, so they have proven effective.
Some of the economic shifts have briefly had an effect as well. The great recession in 2008 caused a dip in energy for fuel demand and the thrust into and about renewable energy may also have had an effect, Jaramillo said.
The other several trends should also be paid attention to. Of the four sectors studied, electric generation accounted for the most damage caused. Looking at all of them, the sulfur dioxide is the most damaging emission found. This should be the subject of continuing regulations going forward. This would seem to have the highest impact on health issues dealing with air pollution.
One of the most important element of this study was the ‘“spatial heterogeneity” of these results. This simply means that many locations, themselves, play a large role in the amount of damage is being caused by one or more of the sectors being reviewed. This study was analyzed county by county to attempt to get at the differences in each. What they found was telling. The main factor, here, is population distribution.
Since the effects of air pollution impact the health of people, more populated areas play a major role in the costs accrue because of it. That being said, the higher the population, in any given area, the more damage caused. This is based on the fact that, whether the pollution is greater or not, there are more people to be affected by it and the costs of that damage will be greater.
Added to that will be the different types of power production and other fuels being extracted from each area. For that reason, areas such as Indiana, Pennsylvania and Ohio, because of their coal-fired power plants, which make a very hefty contribution to air pollution compared to other types of power generation, have greater impacts base solely on that.
Those are several considerations to think about when making policies such as emissions trading programs or taxes as these are best done based on geographical locations, not as one-size-fits-all scheme.
Air pollution is considered bad by many people. Others believe that it kills too many people and regulations should be balanced to alleviate these costs as much as possible. This study and all others, attempt to point out the costs that are very real and that those regulations should be formulated to assist in this function, not to add to them.