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Abby Beasley

Just after reading the title of the paper, I was intrigued as to how the externalities of the life cycle of coal would be presented both quantitatively and qualitatively because while I do not have much knowledge of the industry, I have pondered why it is still the leading electricity generator despite public awareness. It seems, however, that this general awareness is very surface level and lacks the depth of severity. I assume the government has done little to alter this industry because of a global reliance on jobs and the stability coal provides. Unfortunately, the cons outweigh the pros and an alternative must be implemented in order to halt the effects of CO2 emissions, which were more than 40% in 2005. I found that in 2014, CO2 accounted for more than 80% of emissions from human activities in the US. Quite frankly, organizations have been lazy in considering both the public and even private effects these stark numbers have on the future of consumption. A true tragedy of the commons, the continued extraction, transportation, processing, and combustion of coal has yielded a negative global utility much larger than the incremental utility gained by producers.

Alana Babington

I agree with many of my peers, why are we still using coal if the costs heavily outweigh the benefits? Arguably, some of the severe downsides of coal are not well known or accessibly public information, but if coal production does have so many negative externalities, why is there not more publicly-displayed information? Yes, the public can be a lazy bunch and not favor reading up on “old” ways of creating electricity. However, things will need to change as more detrimental information is revealed and people become more innovative. As we learned in class, economists are not necessarily scared of losing natural resources, because we can first conserve and then innovate. Some questions I was formulating while reading the article are similar to Philip’s questions: what would happen if coal use is reduced? I was also thinking of the sunk costs of coal mines and the lives lost in those coal mines, but what about any other hidden costs within the industry? Will those costs be forgone and the reduction in coal be only beneficial, or will electricity suffer as a result? This paper poses interesting topics that will be extremely prevalent in the coming years and decades.

Jones Veith

Like many others on this blog, I think one of the most important questions to consider here is why coal has not been phased out of US energy consumption. I believe one reason might be that coal mining by nature is a very blue collar profession and one that has arguably helped build America. Surely, blue collar workers identify with other kinds of blue collar workers, so they may tend to vote in a specific fashion. For example, blue collar workers in West Virginia may tend to vote for a candidate that pushes policies in their favor. In West Virginia, where many voters are blue collar and many may actually be miners, voters are not going to vote for a candidate that seeks to reduce mining practices. Further, part of Trump's core voter base was this (white) blue collar worker. So, it is not at all surprising to see the link between this voting pattern and, say, Donald Trump's comments about eliminating the EPA altogether. As a result, I don't see many of the study's recommendations coming to fruition under the current administration. It will be interesting to see, though, how America's relationship with coal will change as a result of Trump's Presidency. Not surprisingly, I think that America's coal usage and production (much to the delight of those blue collar workers) will exceed expectations as we approach 2030, but maybe, without an EPA, we won't notice.

Elise George

Reading this article made me realize that the social costs are massive. I originally questioned how they could possibly not outweigh the social benefit, but energy is essential for us to function every day. I think that the U.S. ideally would like to put on regulations to help diminish coal mining and encourage discoveries of alternate uses of energy. However, I now understand that while most of the models we study in class is focused towards policies in the United States. The problem is that reducing coal mining requires efforts from all the countries engaging in this. China, being the biggest producer, exhibits no intents budge in its large production. Therefore, even if the U.S. significantly reduced its production, I don’t think it would make a difference?

nicholas george

The most astonishing thing about coal mining is that it still exists, and I am not even talking about the endless negative externalities that are not priced into the market for coal-- I am talking about the disservice that coal mines do to the people of West Virginia and Kentucky economically. Because of the extreme risk premium that coal companies have to pay workers, they've developed technology to replace those workers. Thus, coal mines can now produce more coal with less human labor. Demand for coal miners has shrunk incredibly as a result of this technological change; however, supply is still the same. Thus, the oversupply bids down wages and coal miners are getting paid less. Additionally, coal mines use to pass off the lack of safety regulations onto the workers by paying them a risk premium; however, governmental regulation has shifted that cost onto the coal mines and they can now pay coal miners a lower risk premium, which translates to a lower wage. The argument that pro-coal people often make is that these areas of West Virginia and Kentucky need coal mining jobs. Yet, as demonstrated above, coal mines jobs are becoming few and far between regardless of any government shutting down coal mines. The problem with the attachment to coal mines is that it is preventing other industries from penetrating these areas that have an incredible amount of low skill workers available; yet, no industry wants to set up in a place where the ecosystem is destroyed, the waterways are polluted, and the people are constantly sick. It is no coincidence that these places are the most impoverished and sickly places per capita in either state.

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