Accounting for the True Cost of Coal

The Environmental League is working with our partners to phase out the burning of coal for electricity in Massachusetts. Doing so will help combat global warming, because burning coal releases much more heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than other fossil fuels per amount of energy produced. But coal has another drawback: mining it and burning it kills people. It also costs us hundreds of billions of dollars annually in added health costs that aren't included in the price of coal. The Boston Globe's Beth Daley recently cited a recent Harvard Medical School study to make that point - below is that story.

Coal has a climate-change reputation: Power plants that burn it release enormous amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.  But a report from the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School looks deeper at the full cost of coal, following its life cycle from exploration through transportation, processing, and burning. It estimates coal is costing the country one-third to more than half a trillion dollars annually.

The report, published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, notes that fully accounting for the costs would double to triple the price of electricity from coal, thus making wind, solar, and other forms of renewable energy far more competitive. The report focused in on Appalachia, but its conclusions were national.

For example, it showed that accidents since 1900 have killed more than 100,000 US miners; more than 200,000 have died from black lung disease, with long-term support of them dependent on state and federal funds. "The public is unfairly paying for the impacts of coal use,'' said Dr. Paul Epstein, the lead author of the report. "Policy makers 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.''

A direct link to this story is here.  


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