The True Cost of Coal

The American Economic Review has just published a paper, “Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy,” which highlights the economic costs of air pollution versus economic benefits for several industries.  While the paper is fairly dense (and there is a cost to download it), the authors make clear that the economic harms of coal-fired power far outweigh its economic benefits.  In fact, coal has the worst cost benefit ratio of several polluting industries profiled, including solid waste combustion, sewage treatment, and stone quarrying (which also create more economic harms than benefits).  The authors of this study are just looking at the air-pollution harms of coal, which leaves aside the many other health and environmental harms caused by coal-fired power plants.  If you add those in, it is exceedingly clear that coal has a major negative impact on the US economy.

In fact, a study published earlier this year by the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, and written by faculty at the Center for Health and Global Environment at  Harvard Medical School, found that the true cost of coal is up to ½ trillion dollars per year, when all environmental and health impacts are added in.  Based on this true cost accounting, all clean energy sources are much cheaper than coal.  Of course, if you consider the fact that some of the economic harms of coal literally result from people dying, the need to transition our energy mix away from coal becomes even more urgent.

You can help end coal-fired power in the US.  Please join Green America in telling Southern Company, one of our most polluting utilities, that it needs to move rapidly away from coal to clean energy and energy efficiency! Take action with us today!


  1. Pingback: Do No Harm? «
  2. There are 600 active coal companies in the U.S. Given the fact that coal companies are allowed to dump toxic coal dust into streams would it be feasible to build retention sites between those sites and the streams so that the toxic substances could be removed? I think we need to consider ways to take immediate action to remediate problems like this. Signing petitions and making phone calls to our representatives is taking too much time.

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