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Mile High Natural Awakenings

Coal Costs: Closing Plants Saves Lives and Crops

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Between 2005 and 2016, the shutdown of coal-fired plants in the U.S. saved an estimated 26,610 lives and the equivalent of around 570 million bushels of corn, soybeans and wheat, reports a new University of California at San Diego (UCSD) study published in Nature Sustainability. The coal plants were typically decommissioned as utilities transitioned from coal to natural gas for electric power generation, thus reducing particulate matter and ozone in the lower atmosphere. “When a coal-fired unit shuts down, local pollution [including particulate matter] levels drop, mortality rates drop and crop yields of major staple crops rise,” writes study author and UCSD associate professor Jennifer Ann Burney. The newer, natural-gas and coal-fired units that have supplanted them are not entirely benign and deserve further study, she notes.
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