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.
(02/16/2011) Environmentalists, scientists, and locals have won the battle against a controversial coal plant in the Malaysian state of Sabah in northern Borneo. The State and Federal government announced today that they would “pursue other alternative sources of energy, namely gas, to meet Sabah’s power supply needs.” Proposed for an undeveloped beach on the north-eastern coast of Borneo, critics said the coal plant would have threatened the Coral Triangle, one of the world’s most biodiverse marine ecosystems, and Tabin Wildlife Reserve, home to Critically Endangered Sumatran rhinos and Bornean orangutans. Local fishermen feared that discharges from the plant would have imperiled their livelihood.
(01/26/2011) Last night US President Barack Obama called for a massive green energy make-over of the world’s largest economy. Describing the challenge as ‘this generation’s Sputnik moment’ the US president set a goal of producing 80 percent of America’s energy by clean sources by 2035. While this may sound improbable, two recent analyses back the president up, arguing that a global clean energy revolution is entirely possible within a few decades using contemporary technology and without breaking the bank. “Based on our findings, there are no technological or economic barriers to converting the entire world to clean, renewable energy sources,” Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford said in a press release. “It is a question of whether we have the societal and political will.”
(08/26/2010) The United States Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank) voted on Wednesday to seek a final review of a $900m loan for a controversial 3,960 MW coal-fired power plant in India, reports Pacific Environment, a San Francisco-based environmental group.
(05/03/2010) A new study in Environmental Science and Technology (ES&T) concludes that the US could stop all emissions from coal-fired plants within 20 years time using only existing technologies and some that will be ready within the next decade. Such an accomplishment would go a long way toward lowering the US’s carbon emissions and mitigating the impact of climate change, according to the researchers.