Carnegie Mellon University


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Advancing and Applying Integrated Air Pollution and Economic Modeling for Emissions-Related Policy Analysis in the United States

posted on 2023-10-20, 20:04 authored by Luke Dennin

This doctoral thesis advances and applies integrated air pollution and economic modeling for emissions-related policy analysis in the U.S. The work herein pursues upgrades for the Air Pollution Emission Experiments and Policy analysis model, an integrated assessment model connecting emissions to concentrations of fine particulate matter and the resulting social costs. This dissertation then applies these tools to study some of the most pressing subjects pertaining to air pollution in the U.S., including the energy transition away from coal, the increasing influence of wildfires on air quality and unhealthy pollution days, and environmental injustice regarding the disproportionate exposures to and health risks from particulate matter for vulnerable communities. 

The key takeaways herein are as follows. First, while air pollution in the U.S. has greatly declined since the passing of the Clean Air Act, damages are still extraordinary. This dissertation finds coal-fired power plants and wildland fires to cause air pollution damages on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars. Second, there is a paradigm shift regarding emission sources and the corresponding air pollution impacts in the U.S. While air pollution from most anthropogenic activities has greatly decreased, wildfire emissions are increasing. The implications are substantial for public health, regulatory compliance, and environmental modeling, as episodic events are the emergent threat. Third, there are substantial disparities in who is damaged by air pollution as well as who “wins” and “loses” as we continue to address the problem. The most vulnerable populations have historically been most impacted by emissions and substantially benefit from their reduction, whereas polluting industries and communities reliant on them are most at risk. That said, most stakeholders are better off with cleaner air, and innovative public policies can continue to achieve environmental progress while mitigating the losses. 

The study-specific findings herein are as follows. Both recent and potential benefits from coal’s decline far outweigh associated costs, and the government should fund policies supporting a swift and just clean energy transition. The marked net benefits of moving away from coal justify substantial investments in the hardest-hit communities. Daily PM2.5 variability is increasingly important, and the mathematical modeling of this phenomenon (conscious of challenges imposed by extreme wildfire events) can better inform air quality analysis and relevant decision-making. Finally, fire smoke is the new standout air pollution health risk in the U.S., and socially vulnerable populations are most exposed and damaged. Policymakers must consider the nexus of existing inequities and their influence on risk when devising solutions to address the deadly smoke. 




Degree Type

  • Dissertation


  • Engineering and Public Policy

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Nicholas Mulle

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