Coal Costs U.S. $500 Billion Per Year: Study

On the heels of President Obama's speech supporting clean coal, it doesn't seem that this energy source is leaving anytime soon. But while advocates often tout the inexpensiveness of coal, a new study reveals that the substance may be costing the U.S. up to $500 billion per year. So much for cheap coal.

Harvard professor and Huffington Post contributor Paul Epstein, M.D., M.P.H., has just announced the release of a new study in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences entitled "Full Cost Accounting For the Life Cycle Of Coal."

According to TreeHugger, Epstein's study is considered one of the first to examine the costs of coal in its entirety - from extraction to combustion. So how did Epstein reach the astronomical number of $500 billion/yr?

First, public health costs. In Appalachian communities alone, health care, deaths, and injuries from coal mining and transporting cost $74 billion per year. Beyond Appalachia, the health costs of cancer, lung disease, and respiratory illnesses related to pollutant emissions totals $187.5 billion per year. According to Climate Progress, processing coal releases heavy metal toxins and carcinogens which in turn may lead to long-term health problems. The American Lung Association reports on a study finding that coal-powered electricity caused over 13,000 premature deaths in 2010.

Beyond health problems, add the cost of coal's effect on land use, energy consumption, and food prices, plus the cost of toxic waste spills and cleanup... $500 billion. "And this is an underestimate," reports Epstein. He concludes, "The public is unfairly paying for the impacts of coal use. Accounting for these 'hidden costs' doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh, making wind, solar, and other renewable very economically competitive."

According to Epstein, we must focus more on green city planning. Most importantly, "We need to phase out coal rapidly."