The COST of COAL
What the Electric Bill Does Not Show...
The cost of coal is only partly shown in an electric power bill. Hidden costs are pawned off onto the public (both present and future) in impaired health and morbidity, in ecological devastation, in climate chaos, in destroyed communities, in a legacy of poverty and despair, and in compromised public policymakers.
The Coal Industry cries "jobs, jobs" while it incessantly eliminates jobs through the increased use of heavy industrial equipment. In West Virginia, coal jobs are at less than 10% of the peak number in 1950, and account for less than 3% of jobs in that state. Furthermore, unions are decimated, leaving most miners with little job protection.
Looming high above all else is the spectre of major global Climate Disruption. The consequences, already being felt in severe ways with worse to come, are difficult to measure simply in dollars. Loss of biodiversity, famine, disease, population relocation, and political unrest and violence will certainly wreak havoc and untold misery (especially on the Poor). Each of us needs to take significant personal responsibility as well as advocate for public policy to avert further buildup of greenhouse gasses. The time is critical. While a number of sources contribute to greenhouse gasses, coal is the number one fossil fuel culprit. NASA Goddard Space Institute for Space Studies Director, James Hansen, calls coal-fired power plants "Death Factories."
Several studies are conclusively demonstrating that coal producing regions suffer negative economic consequences. Mountaintop Mining is especially devastating, according to a Study published in Science Magazine in January 2010. (see also review).
The prestigious Gallup and Healthways companies are combining on a long term study of Quality of Life that encompasses each of the 436 Congressional Districts in the U.S.A. (incl. Wash.D.C.). According to their website, "The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index® is the first-ever daily assessment of U.S. residents' health and well-being. By interviewing at least 1,000 U.S. adults every day, the Well-Being Index provides real-time measurement and insights needed to improve health, increase productivity, and lower healthcare costs." Indices include Life Evaluation, Emotional Health, Physical Health, Healthy Behaviors, Work Environment, and Basic Access. In looking at their figures for year 2010, the three districts with the nation's highest levels of mountaintop removal (Kentucky 5th, WV 3rd, and Virginia 9th) were each in the bottom 6 nationally in overall Well-Being. In 2011, WV 3rd and VA 9th crept up slightly. West Virginia as a state continues to be at #50 overall as well as in subcategories of Life Evaluation, Emotional Health, and Physical Health. WV 3rd District was #435 (2010) in both Emotional Health and Physical Health. Kentucky edges ahead one notch to #49 overall as well as in the above mentioned categories in WV. Kentucky's 5th District is dead last in Overall Evaluation and in subcategories of Life Evaluation, Emotional Health, and Physical health, and next to last in Healthy Behavior. Virginia as a state is currently ranked at #15 (yr. 2011), but its MTR heavy 9th District stands markedly in contrast with the other districts in being at the bottom of rankings. It is important to read the Gallup/Healthways methodology. For example, Emotional Health essentially is a happiness scale, while Life Evaluation is a "Hope scale." See Forbes.com for more on study.
The Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment published in February 2011 a study, "Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal." This study concludes that the external costs associated with coal for electric power generation significantly outweigh economic benefits. As Grist Magazine reports, "In terms of human health, the report estimates $74.6 billion a year in public health burdens in Appalachian communities, with a majority of the impact resulting from increased healthcare costs, injury and death. Emissions of air pollutants account for $187.5 billion, mercury impacts as high as $29.3 billion, and climate contributions from combustion between $61.7 and $205.8 billion... Our comprehensive review finds that the best estimate for the total economically quantifiable costs, based on a conservative weighting of many of the study findings, amount to some $345.3 billion, adding close to 17.8¢/kWh of electricity generated from coal. The low estimate is $175 billion, or over 9¢/kWh, while the true monetizable costs could be as much as the upper bounds of $523.3 billion, adding close to 26.89¢/kWh... These and the more difficult to quantify externalities are borne by the general public."
Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) study produced in 2006 concluded that coal generated $528 million in revenue for the state of Kentucky, but it cost $643 million in state expenditures. Downstream Strategies study reports a net coal loss to West Virginia in 2009 of $97 million.
Mountaintop Removal Roadshow
trooper Dave Cooper describes externalized costs. "In the coal
business, coal companies externalize their costs onto the general public
(that's you and me, folks). For example:
• When Appalachian streams become polluted with heavy metals because of mountaintop removal mining, the public pays to clean up the water so it's safe to drink - but they don't pay the cost on their electric bill, they pay it on their water bill!
• When a child in North Carolina suffers an asthma attack or ear infection because of a coal-burning TVA power plant in Tennessee, the North Carolina family pays the cost of the child's medication - not TVA.
• When a community in the Appalachian Mountains suffers from depreciated property values because a coal company is showering the town with coal dust, the homeowners pay the cost when they sell their homes and move away.
• And when big, heavy coal trucks destroy the roads and bridges in the mountain towns, the taxpayers have to pay to fix the roads - not the trucking or coal companies."
None of these studies factors in present and future cost that might be associated with Climate Change. Other externalized costs such as mercury contamination or other toxic materials are NOT factored in. And important to note, the personal suffering of people whose lives are negatively impacted by the coal economy is NOT something that dollars can really cover.
It is time, crucially time, for coal to be retired, and for a renewable, sustainable, healthful economy to rise. Let us all work together for this promise to be realized.
Coal mining throughout the world brings boom then bust. Grinding poverty, low educational attainment, drug abuse, poor health, out migration of talented young people, follow in the trail of coal. Mountaintop Removal invariably occurs in impoverished areas (or bequeaths poverty). [see map]
Robert Kennedy, jr., Wendell Berry, Robert Orr, and Janice Nease discuss the high cost of coal in essays in the I Love Mountains site.
Civil Society Institute has produced through Synapse Energy Economics, Inc. well-researched studies that show the high externalized costs of coal nationally and internationally, while pointing to a renewable, clean energy future. Beyond Business As Usual (Beyond BAU) (2010) provides an objective analysis of the cost of moving away from coal and nuclear fuels toward efficiency and renewables. This report finds that the full coal fleet could be retired and replaced by 2050 at no net cost to ratepayers. Benefits Of Beyond BAU: Human, Social, and Environmental Damages Avoided through the Retirement of the US Coal Fleet (January 2011) expands the earlier study to include the toxic externalities currently imposed upon the population. Toward a Sustainable Future for the U.S. Power Sector (November 2011) is a cost/benefit analysis toward a proposal of utilizing existing clean energy technologies that would reduce power plant CO2 emissions by 80%, drastically reduce harmful health impairments and mortalities, and save money as well. These studies were published in 2010 and 2011. Highly recommended!!!
After 130 years of coal dominance, how are the Appalachian states doing? Take West Virginia, for instance. The people at Forbes know their business, and have rated West Virginia # 50 (that's last place, folks) for several years in business climate. Forbes also lists the greenest (environmentally strong) states as well. # 50 that same year...West Virginia. The blurb on bottom ranking states reads, "All suffer from a mix of toxic waste, lots of pollution and consumption and no clear plans to do anything about it. Expect them to remain that way." Vermont was ranked #1 as a "Green State," a mountainous state with no navigable river, no fossil fuel resources, and a tougher climate. Hmmn?
CEO's were interviewed about business friendly states, and rank West Virginia low at CNBC ranks West Virginia at #46. Forbes (again) ranks West Virginia as one of the worst states to get sued in. Economic development in today's world is heavily dependent on populations strong on science and math. West Virginia is #49 according to Great Schools. Other dismal rankings here. And the fact is, the regions where mountaintop removal is most dominant, whether Kentucky, Virginia, or West Virginia, large populations continue to move out, especially talented young people. Yet the policymakers, in the hip pocket of big coal, continue to cast a blind eye to the obvious...coal is bad for business, bad for the economy, bad for God's creatures, and bad for people.
It is past time for coal to