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Jenny Rea Bulley

The intro to this paper blatantly lays out the extent of the worldwide use of coal and some of the basic negative effects of such use. Coal is responsible for 40% of emissions and is the largest source of electricity. China uses more coal than the US, the EU, and Japan combined. Only a fraction of the potential energy is actually extracted from burning coal. From here, the authors transition to discussing their method of life cycle analysis of coal. Basically, they evaluate each unit of coals life cycle, including underground mining, mountain top removal, coal mining, transportation, combustion, waste disposal, and electricity transmission. For each one of these parts of coal's life cycle, the paper estimates the costs of externalities that are not captured in the current cost of production. The chart on page 78-80 gives a comprehensive list of all such costs. After doing such analysis, they conclude that the total cost of coal production in 2008$ is 345.3 billion dollars. They go on to provide many recommendations to minimize these costs. Most recommendations include investing in some other sorts of energy. Some are as simple as planting roof top gardens. We would like to see a more comprehensive recommendation section as the one that is given is incomplete and not fleshed out, if you will. It does not discuss the costs or benefits of these initiatives, nor does the paper really explain the reasoning behind them, except that it minimizes coal use.

Hannah Gilmore

This study looks at the externalities and costs associated with the use of coal. The world is greatly dependent on coal for energy, and our demand for the resource is growing steadily. The United States has over ¼ of the coal supply in the world, and there are mining operations in half of the states. The CO2 emissions from mining and burning coal are accentuating climate change, and the other chemical byproducts cause soil and water contamination, and consequently loss of biodiversity and decline in public health; these factors also economic development in the area. Externalities are associated with every part of the life cycle of coal, and are costly: contamination from mining and combustion depletes farmland resources, decreases tourism, and increases related health issues (including death). The transportation and disposal of this coal also puts stress on the environment via air pollution of vehicles and chemical runoff leading to water pollution. Our group was surprised to notice that some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the US are near coal mining plants, and the biodiversity is being threatened by the negative impacts of coal. The researchers were able to assign estimated values (including values of COz emissions and climate change, and human life) to each of the costs of mining, transporting, and burning coal. Using these numbers, their “best estimate” of coal externalities is over $345 billion. However, we know that this does not account for all of the costs associated with coal production, especially since there was limited discussion on the opportunity (available or lost) to restore the environment to pre-coal-production standards. We thought this idea would give more clarity to the costs and externalities, because there would be costs associated with reclaiming the landscape, biodiversity, and community health. We wondered if decreasing our dependence on coal would help restore some ecosystem health, or if it would simply prevent further damage, and if this were the plan of action, what costs would it carry? We also discussed the idea that turning to a different, “cleaner” form of energy will still have costs associated with it, but they may not be as severe or irreversible as those associated with coal.

Samantha Smith

Group 2: Flores, Retzloff, Smith, Travis
Article: Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal

This article attempts to determine the full cost of the life cycle of coal. This includes coal at all stages, from exploration to dissipation. The article is broken up into four main sections: an introduction, explanation of the authors’ method, the explanation of the costs of coal, and then finally alternatives, public finance, and the conclusion.
The introduction explains that there is going to be an increase in energy demand and by 2030, the electricity demand worldwide is projected to double. Coal is the main supplier of the world’s electrical energy. The flipside of this is that coal is a very inefficient producer of energy. In 2005, coal produced 50% of the electricity, but 82% of the emissions. Carbon dioxide is the main byproduct of coal and is a concern, but it should not be the only focus because there are many other heavy metals and chemicals that are by products of coals. We measure this as a unit of energy, so it is easily comparable to other energy methods. The end of the introduction, addresses that the costs of coal extend even further to the rail transportation of coal and the risks associated. An interesting note from the introduction is that the U.S., Russia, China, and India contain about 70% of the world’s coal reserves.
The next section, methods, explains how the authors determined their values in accounting for the cost of coal. The authors studied the stages of the life cycle of coal to address the hidden costs. We thought that it was very honest that the authors provided both a high and low estimates on the costs of carbon dioxide ($10-$100 a ton). The authors also conducted a literature review in which they found a basis for their estimates. Then the authors valued the climate impacts using estimates, the mortality risk costs (VSL), and federal subsides. The authors provide a table explaining how they broke down the externalities by economic, human, environmental, and other costs.
The next section, full costs, is the bulk of the paper. This section conducts a life cycle analysis. This analysis included explaining and quantifying the costs associated with underground mining and occupational health, mountaintop removal, methane, impoundments, and processing plants. One important note that we wanted to highlight was that coal mining had the largest number of negative externalities. The authors then discuss coal combustion waste (fly ash). This was something that we all did not know too much about, but quickly learned its negative effects including local water contamination, carcinogen emission, and mining and community health. The section continues with an explanation of the ecological impacts of coal acquisition and dissipation including imperiled aquatic ecosystems, transportation, the vast social and employment impacts, effects of combustion, algal blooms, dead zones, and climate change. The degree to which these negative impacts of coal mining, refining, and use adversely affect various systems was eye-opening for many of us.
The final section encompasses the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) method, public finance, limitations, and conclusions. The authors present the alternative CCS method that is supposed to produce “clean coal.” While at first this sounds like the answer to a large part of the coal problem, there are still many risks associated with this method and the method is not efficient because it has not been thoroughly studied and applied. The section goes on to explain the public finance side of coal accumulation and dissipation; this includes subsidies and abandoned land mines. What we found most interesting in this section was that in Kentucky there is a net loss of $115 million from coal mining, without even including the costs of health, lost productivity, water treatment, and water infrastructure. The government must subsidize the coal mining greatly for the state to continue the practice, which is what has historically been done.
The authors conclude that their estimate of the total cost accounting for the life cycle of coal is $345.3 billion. While the authors estimate this extraordinarily large number, they do mention that there are limitations associated with their study, focusing on the fact that the measurements of environment, community, mental health, and economic impacts are not easily quantifiable. They also mention that there are problems with region versus negative impact on the entire U.S., boom-bust cycles, discount rates, and opportunity costs.
Our group thinks that the authors do a very thorough and complete job of estimating these costs. We also believe that the authors were very conservative and the actual cost of the coal life cycle is even greater than their estimate. As we mentioned in class, it is important to note that the solutions to the coal problem as of now are just cleaning up after it rather than solving our problem of dependency of coal. At this point the cost is all on the consumers rather than the producer.
After reading and discussing the paper, our group wanted to highlight these important points that the paper made. The VSL cost is estimated at around $74.6 billion, yet the benefits of coal mining are estimated to be only $8.08 billion, which proves that while the popular belief is that coal mining helps the economy and creates jobs, it actually has a much more negative impact. Our group also discussed the fact that Appalachia has the most biodiversity, second to the tropics, so there are many potentially lasting effects of destroying the ecosystem. Our final thought is that we feel as though the region has been very lucky that there have not been more disasters and we should do something about our “coal habit” before that luck runs out.

Our group discussed these questions about the article:
-Given that many of coal’s greatest negative impacts affect those mining and living near the mines the most, why is it that those people are frequently some of the least willing to accept the inherent dangers associated with coal extraction, processing, and use even when those dangers are often quite visible?
-The coal industry is a major part of the economy in Appalachia. Were we to replace our use of coal with renewable sources of energy, how would that affect the economy in Appalachia? Would the area be able to continue to rely on energy production as a major part of their economy or would the people in the coal industry be out of luck?
-Were the findings of this study widely known throughout the country, would we change our energy habits? What negative cost of coal would people take the most issue with?
-In the conclusion, there is a whole paragraph that includes the limitations and omitted externalities that they did not measure in this study. Some of these measures included morbidity/mortality statistics and long term effects on the environment, health, etc. All of these extra externalities included, what would the more true cost of coal really be? How would we morally go about measuring these long term effects?

Mark Sanders

Group: Sanders, Cole, VanMeter, Witter, McLean

As we were first discussing the paper and examining the full cost accounting of the life cycle of coal, we were taken back by the "drastic" nature of some of the statistics that were presented. According to the authors, close to half of the energy consumed in the United States is produced by coal burning. Even more surprisingly, after the mining process, transporting and burning of the coal, it is estimated that only about 3% of the energy in the coal is used in illuminating incandescent light bulbs. This led us to spend a large portion of our time discussing the inefficiency of coal production. The idea that the coal we are continuing to burn produces one and a half times the CO2 emissions of oil combustion and twice that from burning natural gas is jaw-dropping.

When thinking about the immediate effect that Appalachia would feel should coal go out of production, we thought there would be an overall positive effect for the area. Although there remains a morality question in regards to cutting a large number of jobs in the area, the labor market for coal mining is already extremely inefficient. The authors point out that between 1973 and 1979, there was a rapid increase in the number of coal mining jobs as the amount of mining in the area increased. However, they note that from 1985 to 2005, as mining increased exponentially, jobs were lost in the area as mining companies turned to higher levels of technology and machinery to mine the higher quantities of coal. Likewise, overall unemployment in these areas increased and overall education levels went down. We also thought about the positive ecological benefits that these areas would see. In the graphic displayed in the paper on page 83, we saw that the West Virginia and Kentucky areas on the map are some of the best biodiversity “hotspots” in the United States. By eliminating, or significantly decreasing the amount of coal mining occurring in Appalachia, the positive, monetary benefits created in the area from a cleaner ecosystem would likely outweigh the amount of capital lost in the mining jobs that are cut.

In looking to the future of coal mining, it is important to look at the differences that a reduction of coal mining and coal use would have on different countries and their respective economies. Specifically, we discussed that a slow, phasing out of coal mining in the U.S. and transitioning to alternative forms of energy would be an easier transition than a similar transition in a more developing nation, such as China. Although countries want to be morally responsible in how they approach energy uses, their economies must still make rational, cost-efficient decisions in order to compete in the global marketplace. For these reasons, slowly phasing out the production and use of coal as an energy source in the United States would be even more complicated when looked at its side effects on the global economic level.

Olivia Davis

Group 1, Section 1:

Coal production forms just half of US electricity since 1995, but over 81% of US carbon emissions. Coal consumption is projected to grow 1.5% per year given no policy changes, and it is predicted that world coal production will peak in 2015. CO2 capture and sequestration (CCE) technology requires 25-40% more coal to produce the same amount of energy.

This study used a meta-analytical literature review to estimate the external costs of coal-derived energy production over its life cycle. Where possible, external costs were monetized: these included damages from global climate change, damages from nitrogen (N2O), sulfur (SO2), mercury (Hg) and soot (PM2.5) pollution, rail-accident fatalities from coal transport, direct public health burdens from mining, government subsidies, and the lost value of abandoned mine land. Then, life cycle assessment was used to estimate the external costs arising from mining, transportation, waste disposal, electricity transmission, and carbon capture and sequestration. These estimates were derived from the EcoInvent and ExternE databases.

The study’s results indicate that the three largest external costs of coal-derived energy production are the health risks posed by carcinogens in water, the air pollution by nitrogen, sulfur, mercury, and soot from combustion, and the climate change resulting from the release of greenhouse gasses—carbon (CO2), nitrogen (N2O), sulfur (SO2). In sum, the total external cost of coal-derived energy production is USD2008 00.1784 per kWh (or USD2008 345.3 billion).

The authors acknowledge limitations: CCS and an “energy penalty” will almost double the costs of coal-derived energy production. The authors propose that we phase out coal and use energy sources that are appropriate for each place.

What would be the costs in today’s dollar values? What is the optimal level of coal that we should be using? Would economic incentives or CCS be the best way to achieve the optimal level? How could these massive costs be internalized?

Kingsley Mooney

Group: Matt Ziemer, Mary Beth Benjamin, Bayan Misaghi, and Kingsley Mooney

The introduction serves as an opportunity for the authors to give information and statistics on the coal mining industry and our society’s reliance on coal as a form of energy. Currently, coal produces approximately half of the United States’ electricity while demand for coal is projected to grow by approximately 1.5% per year. Coal is listed as the worst pollutant per unit energy extracted, being responsible for 81% of CO2 emissions. Two-thirds of the coal reserves are found in four countries: the United States, Russia, China, and India. China, however, is the chief consumer of coal, more so than any other countries combined, and has considerably driven up the price of coal on the global market. Next, the paper discusses life cycle analysis as a means of accounting for the full cost of coal. In order to estimate the damages, the authors examine the many life stages of coal and attempt to monetize the associated externalities; in other words, they are attempting to show what coal would cost if the market internalized all social costs that are currently not being accounted for. The authors account for the uncertainties of such method by assigning low, best, and high monetary estimates for the damages. They evaluate each stage of the coal life cycle: underground mining, mountain range mining, mining, transportation, combustion, waste disposal, and electricity transmission.

The results from these monetized externalities are tabulated in Table 3. The authors’ report calculates that the externalities related to coal is $325.3 billion, with a 175.2 to 523.3 billion range. However, they do note that there are many limitations to their data. In reality, some of the externalities are not easily quantifiable and the difficulty of assigning value to a life. In conclusion, there is no doubt that coal is currently vital to providing energy in our lives, but there is a MUCH HIGHER price to pay. The total price of coal’s life cycle goes way beyond the price we see as consumers. Although the authors’ results are uncertain and possibly not fully representative of the problem, they give us reason to be extremely concerned with our future consumption of coal, thus forcing us to look into fuel alternatives or policies that would help control the effect of the externalities. The paper concludes with the authors’ recommendations for how we, as a society, should proceed. Essentially, they suggest phasing out coal and starting to use cleaner, more efficient energy sources.

The recommendations, while helpful, did not provide any costs to implementation. We question the costs of the infrastructure of phasing out coal and the subsequent cost to society, directly and indirectly. The next step would probably be to analyze these potential costs and doing some sort of cost-benefit analysis.

We did not discuss this as a class but, as a group, we recognized that by reducing coal production, there would be jobs lost. However, we realized that the benefits of reducing the externalities outweighed the costs of lost jobs, granted that coalminers do not make up a large portion of the labor market on a national or even global level. Coalminers are often low skilled laborers in towns revolved around the coal mining industry and although it would be costly for the individual, it would most likely not have an effect on the economy. Though politicians might make one think that scaling back coal mining would result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, the reality is that the total number of coalminers currently employed in the entire United States is around 80 thousand.


In quantifying the full cost of coal, this paper moves through both acquisition costs and dissipation costs in order to fully encapsulate the cost of coal to society. Given that coal accounts for the about half of total energy production in the United States and, contrary to expectations of the expansion of renewables, this number is expected to grow 1.5% per year from 2005 to 2030, the need for cost transparency is evident.

While the paper is exhaustive in exploring the different avenues in which coal afflicts society with a cost, it does gloss over some important factors in the interest of brevity. Our group largely discussed the role that jobs, and the possible losses associated with a move away from coal, play in calculating cost. The paper notes that moutaintop removal yields "6,300 MTR and surface mining jobs in West Virginia, representing 0.7–0.8% of the state labor force." A extremely small number, which is owed to the mechanized nature of MTR. However, this quantity is purely in the first stage of acquisition of the coal. The authors do not note the jobs produced in the latter stages associated with processing and transport. If this is oversight or in the interest of maintaining brevity, this benefit, jobs, is not fully assessed. If accounting for the total cost of coal. it may be advantageous to the argument to also look at the benefits and evaluate alternatives.

The persuasive argument that is attempted is indeed persuading, but credit would be given to a larger recommendation section. While perhaps not the thrust of the paper, by noting the benefits and assuaging readers by divulging the potential for the transfer of those benefits, jobs, past coal in the recommendation section, the argument would be strengthened.

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