The decline of coal could be saving thousands of lives as power plants reduce air pollution by switching to natural gas, according to a study published Monday.
More than 26,000 lives in the U.S. were saved over the course of a decade as a result of a drop in carbon emissions, along with smog and other pollutants tied with asthma and other ailments, according to a University of California, San Diego study published in the journal Nature.
Coal has been losing ground to both natural gas and renewable forms of energy like wind and solar, despite efforts by the Trump administration to bolster the industry.
From 2005 to 2016, the period analyzed in the study, 334 coal-fired units were shut down, while 612 new natural gas-fired units came online across the U.S.
“Decommissioning of a coal-fired unit was associated with reduced nearby pollution concentrations and subsequent reductions in mortality and increases in crop yield,” the study said.
Those changes, alongside better emissions controls, led to an 80 percent drop in sulfur dioxide and a 60 percent drop in nitrogen oxides.
The study found the health benefits from the decrease in pollution were almost immediate and corresponded with a drop in the mortality rate.
Natural gas, however, is “not entirely benign,” the study noted, as the fossil fuel is a major source of methane — a heat-trapping gas more potent than carbon.