Air Quality Impacts and Benefits under US Policy for Air Pollution, Climate Change, and Clean Energy

Saari, R.
PhD Thesis, Engineering Systems Division, MIT

Policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions can also reduce outdoor levels of air pollutants that harm human health by targeting the same emissions sources. However, the design and scale of these policies can affect the distribution and size of air quality impacts, i.e. who gains from pollution reductions and by how much. Traditional air quality impact analysis seeks to address these questions by estimating pollution changes with regional chemical transport models, then applying economic valuations directly to estimates of reduced health risks. In this dissertation, I incorporate and build on this approach by representing the effect of pollution reductions across regions and income groups within a model of the energy system and economy. This new modeling framework represents how climate change and clean energy policy affect pollutant emissions throughout the economy, and how these emissions then affect human health and economic welfare. This methodology allows this thesis to explore the effect of policy design on the distribution of air quality impacts across regions and income groups in three studies. The first study compares air pollutant emissions under state-level carbon emission limits with regional or national implementation, as proposed in the U.S. EPA Clean Power Plan. It finds that the flexible regional and national implementations lower the costs of compliance more than they adversely affect pollutant emissions. The second study compares the costs and air quality co-benefits of two types of national carbon policy: an energy sector policy, and an economy-wide cap-and-trade program. It finds that air quality impacts can completely offset the costs of a cost-effective carbon policy, primarily through gains in the eastern United States. The final study extends the modeling framework to be able to examine the impacts of ozone policy with household income. It finds that inequality in exposure makes ozone reductions relatively more valuable for low income households. As a whole, this work contributes to literature connecting actions to impacts, and identifies an ongoing need to improve our understanding of the connection between economic activity, policy actions, and pollutant emissions.

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