New Study Finds Shutting Down Coal Plants Saved 26,000 Lives

Photo: Ken Stewart, ZUMA Press

A new study published this week in the Journal Nature found that the switch from coal-fired power plants to natural gas plants during the 11 year period from 2005-16 coincided with a huge reduction of 26,000 deaths and a significant increase in agricultural productivity nearby the plants.  These changes in power plants (combined with advances in emissions controls technologies) led to much lower toxic air pollution— they “produced net reductions in SO2 and NOx of more than 80% and 60% respectively,” according to the research.

Why This Matters:  These results are striking — the study found that the health benefits from fuel switching began to accrue almost immediately — the mortality rate dropped quickly.  The study’s author correctly notes that natural gas also has its problems because it results in releases of methane releases that are more potent for climate change than carbon releases.  But the bottom line message is clear — closing coal-fired power plants saves lives and likely also saves society overall due to lower health care and other costs.  The agricultural benefits are significant as well and are a less well-studied additional benefit from reduced pollution.  So let’s get on with it and close the approximately 300 remaining ones, instead of propping them up and trying to keep them going like the Trump Administration.

The Study By The Numbers

  • More than 330 coal-fired power ended operations in the U.S. between 2005 and 2016
  • The shutdown of coal-fired units saved an estimated 26,610 (5%–95% confidence intervals (CI), 2,725–49,680) lives in the immediate vicinity of those plants
  • The shutdown also increased by 570 million (249–878 million) the bushels of corn, soybeans, and wheat in the immediate vicinity of those plants

The study also looked at the impact of the plants that remained open.  Those were associated with huge negative impacts.

  • The remaining coal plants caused 329,417 deaths in their immediate vicinities.
  • The remaining coal plants caused the loss of 10.2 billion bushels of staple crops between 2005 and 2016.

The study’s author told The Guardian, ”

“When you turn coal units off you see deaths go down. It’s something we can see in a tangible way. There is a cost to coal beyond the economics. We have to think carefully about where plants are sited, as well as how to reduce their pollutants.”

Up Next

California to Ban Sales of Gas Cars by 2035

California to Ban Sales of Gas Cars by 2035

Yesterday, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the state will phase out sales of all gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. As Governor Newsom said in a separate event with Democratic governors yesterday, people have climate “goal fatigue” and are ready for the application of those goals–this move on gas-powered cars walks the walk on California’s ambitious […]

Continue Reading 387 words
One Great Headline: “Renewables to Quench Pepsi’s Thirst for Power”

One Great Headline: “Renewables to Quench Pepsi’s Thirst for Power”

H/T to, an energy news platform, for that headline, and to PepsiCo for making it possible.  PepsiCo, one of the largest companies in the world — with a global carbon footprint — announced plans this week to transition to 100% renewable electricity across all of its company-owned and controlled operations globally by 2030 and […]

Continue Reading 143 words
A Methane Pandemic: Millions of Abandoned Wells Are Leaking into the Atmosphere

A Methane Pandemic: Millions of Abandoned Wells Are Leaking into the Atmosphere

As the candidates debate fracking, millions of abandoned natural gas wells are leaking literally tons of methane into the atmosphere, and there’s no fix in sight. There are an estimated 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States, and an estimated 29 million worldwide.

Why This Matters:  Methane leaks are dangerous — they have led to reports of tap water catching fire, toxic groundwater, and fatal explosions, all of which have been motivators for the federal government to track and seal these wells.

Continue Reading 521 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.