The Health Benefits of Clean Energy Policy in the United States
In the past 10 years, a drastic shift towards the use of less greenhouse gas intensive fuels for electricity generation has occurred in the United States. At the same time, the U.S. government, states, cities, and businesses began to pursue policies to address climate change. This dissertation advances three research topics. First, this dissertation summarizes how environmental health played a role in advancing U.S. climate policy in the Obama Administration from 2009 – 2016 and identifies additional environmental health literature that could provide evidence to support climate change policy in the future. Second, this dissertation reviews the public health and econometric literature monetizing the health benefits of shifting to lower carbon fuels for electric power generation in the U.S. and identifies the strongest model predictors. Third, this dissertation evaluates whether an innovative exposure metric measuring the shift to lower carbon electricity generation in the U.S. from 2011 - 2012 is directly associated with a change in mortality in the Medicare cohort. The analysis in Chapter 2 found that environmental health literature helped to provide the legal foundation for regulating greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act and that environmental health literature provided the information necessary to build the economic case for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to promulgate greenhouse gas standards. Four of the eleven Obama-Biden Administration’s major climate change rulemakings would not have been cost-effective without monetizing the health, environmental, and societal benefits. The literature review in Chapter 3 revealed that the range of the monetized benefits of shifting to solar energy is 1-2.7 cents/kWh and 1.3-9 cents/kWh for wind energy in the United States. The analysis in Chapter 4 is the first national epidemiology study examining the direct association between phasing out the generation of traditional high carbon fossil-based electricity and the effect on mortality in the Medicare cohort. Using a difference-in-difference (DID) approach, no statistically significant change in mortality in Medicare enrollees was found when comparing the three intervention groups to the control groups and adjusting for confounding. This dissertation provides further evidence supporting the need to conduct multi-step analyses to determine the health effects of energy policy interventions. The results of this research will be used to advance environmental health science and U.S. energy and climate change policy.