Dirty, dangerous and deceptively costly too – a new study by a Harvard researcher estimates that the U.S. spends over $345 billion each year addressing the health and environmental effects of coal.
If factored into the price of electricity, those cost would triple the price, the study found.
The estimate of hidden costs takes into account a variety of side-effects of coal production and use. Among them are the cost of treading elevated rates of cancer and other illnesses in coal-mining areas, environmental damage and lost tourism opportunities in coal regions where mountaintop removal is practiced and climate change resulting from elevated emissions of carbon dioxide from burning the coal.
Coal releases more carbon dioxide when burned than does natural gas or oil.
The $345 billion annual cost figure was the study’s best estimate of the costs associated with burning coal. The study said the costs could be as low as $175 billion or as high as $523 billion.
Iowans may bear a sizable slice of these costs. About 72 percent of the state’s power comes from coal, and some 92 percent of its people live within 30 miles of a coal plant, according to a recent study by Iowa Physicians for Responsibility.