Public health experts say protecting climate has big benefits

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Environment Massachusetts

Boston — Curbing dangerous carbon pollution can reduce the risk of global warming and benefit local communities at the same time, according to a report released today by Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center. The group notes that Massachusetts stands to benefit even more if a current pollution reduction program is strengthened.

“We can cut carbon pollution and build a clean energy economy — which is a win-win for Massachusetts,” said Jacqueline Meyncke Risch, Environment Massachusetts. “We’re proving it every day.”

The report, Carbon-Cutting Success Stories, details how businesses and organizations of all types and sizes are embracing clean energy as a way to create new opportunities and to save money. At the same time, they are helping states to achieve their goals for reducing dangerous carbon pollution. Massachusetts has a goal of reducing global warming pollution across the economy by at least 45 percent by 2030. The report comes as Massachusetts officials discuss how to deliver on this promise.

“There is a growing body of research showing that both energy efficiency and generating more electricity from renewable sources can have significant benefits for both public health and the climate,” said Dr. Jonathan Buonocore, program leader for Climate, Energy, and Health at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Over a 30 year life of a wind farm, that could be up to 1,560 lives saved, due to air quality improvements. When we put these benefits in monetary terms, we find that they can have millions of dollars of benefits, up to $690 million per year.”

The report highlights seven cities, businesses and institutions that have made groundbreaking progress in energy efficiency and renewable energy that dramatically reduce their contributions to global warming, while also helping their bottom lines. These projects were supported by revenue from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — a program that limits carbon pollution from power plants and makes polluters pay for the privilege of using the sky for waste disposal. Much of the revenue is then invested in clean energy programs.

The report also looks at two exciting projects built to capture opportunities for new markets created by the increasing need for pollution-free energy.

Here in Massachusetts, the report highlights the towns of Swampscott and Wenham that installed energy-efficient street lighting, saving the towns more than $100,000 per year, and preventing as much carbon pollution as contained in 28,000 gallons of gasoline.

“The Town of Swampscott has been taking a number of steps to be a leader in energy efficiency. Thanks to Massachusetts’ Green Communities program (funded through RGGI), we’ve been able to focus on making on older public facilities more efficient and reduce operating costs for our tax-paying residents. Our upcoming streetlight conversion project will top off our recent work – significantly reducing our lighting costs, energy demand impact, as well as improving the safety and visibility of our streets,” said Peter Kane, LEED Green Associate and Director of Community Development for the Town of Swampscott.

Other projects covered in the report include:

  • SolarCity’s “GigaFactory” in Buffalo, New York will become the largest solar panel factory in the Western Hemisphere when it comes online in 2017. The company expects to create 3,000 jobs in Buffalo over the next decade.
  • Hunt Country Vineyards in New York installed 300 solar panels on its wineries, meeting 70 percent of its electricity needs and cutting pollution by as much as 3,000 cars emit annually.
  • Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, Connecticut upgraded its cooling, heating and lighting systems, saving $23,000 per year on electricity. The project prevents 140 metric tons of carbon pollution per year – comparable to the emissions of 30 passenger cars.

“In every facet of our economy, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is working,” said Jacqueline Meyncke Risch of Environment Massachusetts, “Whether you are looking for more energy efficiency in Swampscott or Wenham, a parent taking your child to the doctor in Connecticut, a senior citizen living in a retirement home in Maryland, or a millennial having a craft beer in New Hampshire, climate protection programs like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are helping to save money and create new opportunities — while protecting our climate for generations to come.”

The projects highlighted in the report are just the beginning when it comes to potential to use energy more efficiently, and to generate more of our energy from pollution-free resources. Offshore wind energy alone could meet the electricity needs of the East Coast five times over, with zero pollution.

“Investments in clean energy have reduced the burden [of power plant emissions] and provided near-term public health benefits. Since air pollution increases health care utilization, like hospitalizations for heart attacks and emergency room visits for asthma, clean energy investments also reduce health care costs and give us a healthier and more productive population,” said Dr. Jonathan Levy, Professor of Environmental Health, Boston University School of Public Health.

Officials from Massachusetts and other northeastern states are currently undertaking a review of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and are expected to propose changes to the program in the coming months. Advocates are calling for Governor Charlie Baker’s administration to follow through with their commitment to double the pollution reduction goals through 2030.

“Commitment by Massachusetts towards conservation and a strong RGGI is critical to decreasing local emissions and helping improve our overall air quality,” said Casey Harvell, Director of Public Policy, American Lung Association in Massachusetts.


Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives.