Coal's true cost in the US: up to half a trillion

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
February 20, 2011



According to the global market coal is cheap, yet a new study in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences finds that the hidden costs of coal are expensive, very expensive. Estimating the hidden costs of coal, such as health and environmental impacts, the study found that burning coal costs the US up to $523 billion a year. Dubbed 'externalities' by economists, the paper argues that these costs are paid by the American public to the tune of $1,698 per person every year.

"This is not borne by the coal industry, this is borne by us, in our taxes," Paul Epstein, a Harvard Medical School instructor and the associate director of its Center for Health and the Global Environment, the study's lead author, told Reuters. "The public cost is far greater than the cost of the coal itself. The impacts of this industry go way beyond just lighting our lights."

Some of the costs measured by the study include higher rates of cancer and other diseases from pollution, accidental deaths of coal miners, the loss of tourism revenue after coal mountains have been devastated by mining, and the impact of climate change. The study breaks down the costs as such: $74.6 billion paid for by Appalachian communities in direct health risks, injuries, and deaths; $187.5 billion from air pollutants; $8.8 billion in abandoned mine areas; while climate change impacts could vary from $61.8 billion to $205.8 billion.

"Accounting for these 'hidden costs' doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh, making wind, solar, and other renewable very economically competitive. Policymakers need to evaluate current energy options with these types of impacts in mind. Our reliance on fossil fuels is proving costly for society, negatively impacting our wallets and our quality of life," Epstein said in a press release.

Currently coal accounts for 45% of the US's power.













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CITATION:
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (February 20, 2011).

Coal's true cost in the US: up to half a trillion.

http://news.mongabay.com/2011/0220-hance_coal.html