Study: Carbon-cost modeling based on flawed assumptions

A NASA satellite image shows thick air pollution over parts of China. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response.

U.S. government doesn’t accurately account for long-term pollution costs

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Faulty economic modeling by the federal government underestimates the economic cost of carbon pollution, in part by “discounting” long-term environmental impacts.

Because of its flaws, the formula used by the federal government skews the comparison of energy generated by fossil fuels in comparison to renewable energy sources.

Using a more realistic equation that fully incorporates long-term fossil fuel costs, including factors like health carea, would pave the way to cleaner, more economically efficient sources of power generation, according to a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

“This is a wake-up call for America to start aggressively investing in low carbon sources of energy. The very real economic benefits will accrue quickly and increase over time,” said Dr. Laurie Johnson, chief economist in the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “With approximately 40 percent of all carbon emissions in the U.S. coming from power plants, the economic advantages of clean electricity sources are significant,” she said.

Johnson, who co-authored the study (with Chris Hope of Judge Business School, University of Cambridge), said the model used by the government is incomplete because it all but ignores the economic damages that climate change will inflict on future generations.

That model was the product of an interagency task force comprised of six cabinet agencies and six executive branch offices. The real benefits of carbon reduction range from 2.6 to more than 12 times higher than the government’s estimate.

“It turns out that the price we now pay for energy is much higher than what shows up on our electric bills or the tab at the gas pump,” Johnson said.

Supplementary analysis by one of the authors shows even greater gains from replacing existing coal plants with new wind and solar photovoltaic, or with new fossil fuel generation that has carbon capture and storage technology.

The country’s existing coal fleet accounts for approximately 36 percent of all U.S. CO2 emissions and is responsible for virtually all power-sector sulfur dioxide emissions, which cause thousands of premature deaths every year, respiratory problems, heart disease, and a number of ecosystem damages.


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