Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal

solar.gwu.edu/index_files/Resources_files/epstein_full cost of coal.pdf

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 are thus often considered “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

The electricity derived from coal is an integral part of our daily lives. However, coal carries a heavy burden.
The yearly and cumulative costs stemming from the aerosolized, solid, and water pollutants associated
with the mining, processing, transport, and combustion of coal affect individuals, families, communities, ecological integrity, and the global climate. The economic implications go far beyond the prices
we pay for electricity.
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.
Still these figures do not represent the full societal
and environmental burden of coal. In quantifying
the damages, we have omitted the impacts of toxic
chemicals and heavy metals on ecological systems
and diverse plants and animals; some ill-health endpoints (morbidity) aside from mortality related to
air pollutants released through coal combustion that
are still not captured; the direct risks and hazards
posed by sludge, slurry, and CCW impoundments;
the full contributions of nitrogen deposition to eutrophication of fresh and coastal sea water; the prolonged impacts of acid rain and acid mine drainage;
many of the long-term impacts on the physical and
mental health of those living in coal-field regions
and nearby MTR sites; some of the health impacts
and climate forcing due to increased tropospheric
ozone formation; and the full assessment of impacts
due to an increasingly unstable climate.
The true ecological and health costs of coal are
thus far greater than the numbers suggest. Accounting for the many external costs over the life cycle
for coal-derived electricity conservatively doubles
to triples th