$500 Billion True Cost of Coal: New Harvard Study

It has been a busy couple of weeks in the fight to quit coal. One of the least reported and yet most compelling new set of facts illustrating how irresponsible it is to burn coal for electricity is a new study soon to be published by Dr. Paul Epstein at Harvard University. Here is an excerpt from a blog by Kert Davies over at Greenpeace:

“The paper details all the factors that are not quantifiable like lost work time when a mother has to take her child with to the doctor for an asthma attack or the cost to a family for the lost of a loved one or wage earner.

“The monetizable impacts found are damages due to climate change; public health damages from NOx, SO2, PM2.5, and mercury emissions; fatalities of members of the public due to rail accidents during coal transport; the public health burden in Appalachia associated with coal mining; government subsidies; and lost value of abandoned mine lands.”

The abstract of the of paper tells the whole story:

Each stage in the life cycle of coal—extraction, transport, processing, and combustion—generates a waste stream and carries multiple hazards for health and the environment. These costs are external to the coal industry and thus are often considered as “externalities.” We estimate that the life cycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated are costing the U.S. public a third to over one-half of a trillion dollars annually. Many of these so-called externalities are, moreover, cumulative. Accounting for the damages conservatively doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh generated, making wind, solar, and other forms of non fossil fuel power generation, along with investments in efficiency and electricity conservation methods, economically competitive. We focus on Appalachia, though coal is mined in other regions of the United States and is burned throughout the world.

This study sets a new benchmark for a discussion of energy choices in this country.  In addition to the lump sum costs, the paper breaks down what these ‘external’ costs borne by society would add to the cost of coal fired electricity. The conclusion? The cost of coal fired electricity would double or quadruple if these “external” costs were included on our electricity bills, raising the per kilowatt price by 9-27 cents. That’s a far different story than the coal propaganda machine are telling with their advertising for clean, cheap, abundant coal.”

Stay tuned for the published study coming out soon in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences

2 Responses to “$500 Billion True Cost of Coal: New Harvard Study”


  1. 1 boyonabudget Feb 19th, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    I grew up as a coal miner’s daughter. My dad worked hard to provide for our family. The work took a toll on his body inside and out. He has suffered with black lung for the last 20 plus years. I wish solar and wind energy had been as popular during his working years. He would have been able to work out in the fresh air and probably would have made more money doing less stressful work.

    My goal is to build a home powered by solar one day. I read something recently where it might be possible to put solar panels in highways that would melt snow and help power the surrounding towns. That would be a wonderful project to be a part of.

    Back to coal…I have great respect for miners who work hard to provide for their families. Please don’t support killing their jobs without training them to work in cleaner energy jobs. They deserve to make at least the same money they make now if not more providing energy to America while taking care of the ones they love.
    Kathleen

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About John


John Deans is a Greenpeace campaigner working on Toxics issues, but he got his start in activism working to stop climate change and still participates when able.

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