Reducing the Health Impacts of Coal-Fired Power Plants in India

March 1, 2013
By Kevin Rowe, MPP14

Facing surging energy demand, India has ambitious plans to build more than a dozen major new coal-fired power plants in coming years.

The effort to expand access to electricity across India, however, has also brought growing concern about the health effects associated with coal-fired plants, which currently make up 70 percent of the country’s electricity generation. Studies have shown that exposure to air pollutants from coal-fired plants, especially nitrous oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and suspended particulate matter, significantly raises risks of respiratory illnesses like lung cancer and asthma.

Last Thursday (Feb. 28) Maureen Cropper, professor of economics at the University of Maryland and senior fellow at Resources for the Future (RFF), presented to the Regulatory Policy Program (RPP) Seminar on new research examining the potential health benefits from curbing coal plant emissions in India.

“We are trying, plant-by-plant, to look at the damages associated with NOx, SO2, and particulate matter emissions” from coal-fired power plants across India, Cropper said. The research is the first of its kind to combine data from India on power plant emissions and local health with sophisticated models of air quality and associated health impacts developed for air pollution regulations in the United States.

Preliminary findings from two plants in India suggest that installing SO2 scrubbers or washing coal, a process to make coal burn cleaner and more efficiently by removing ash, could be cost-effective ways of reducing health risks. In coming months, Cropper and her co-authors will reproduce these analyses for nearly every existing plant in India to establish a precise estimate of the health benefits from taking these measures to reduce emissions.

Cropper’s paper, “The Health Effects of Coal Electricity Generation in India,” is available on the website. The Spring 2013 New Directions in Regulation Seminar series is sponsored by the Regulatory Policy Program at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government.

The research is the first of its kind to combine data from India on power plant emissions and local health with sophisticated models of air quality and associated health impacts developed for air pollution regulations in the United States.


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