Co-Benefits to Children’s Health of the U.S. Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

While various policies have been implemented globally to mitigate climate change and reduce exposure to toxic air pollutants, policy assessments have considered few if any of the benefits to children.

Objective: To comprehensively assess the co-benefits of climate change mitigation to children, we expanded the suite of adverse health outcomes in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program (BenMAP) to include additional outcomes associated with prenatal and childhood exposure to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5PM2.5). We applied this newly expanded program to an assessment of the U.S. Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the United States’ first regional market-based regulatory program designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electric power sector within the Northeast.

Methods: We used calculated changes in ambient PM2.5PM2.5 concentrations for the period 2009–2014, with newly incorporated concentration–response (C-R) functions to quantify changes in the incidence of preterm birth (PTB), term low birth weight (TLBW), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and asthma. These outcomes are causally or likely to be causally related to PM2.5PM2.5 exposure. Cost per case estimates were incorporated to monetize those changes in incidence.

Results: The estimated avoided cases of adverse child health outcomes included 537 asthma cases, 112 preterm births, 98 cases of ASD, and 56 cases of TLBW, with an associated avoided cost estimate ranging from $191 to $350 million. In a previous analysis of health benefits of RGGI, the only benefits accruing to children were limited to prevented cases of infant mortality and respiratory illnesses, with a monetized impact of $8.1 million—only 2–4% of the new results attributable to RGGI.

Conclusion: The results of this innovative analysis indicate that RGGI has provided substantial child health benefits beyond those initially considered. Moreover, those health benefits had significant estimated economic value.


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