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Owen Brannigan

I found this reading incredibly alarming. Although I understood that coal had a large environmental impact, I did not realize the incredible impact it had on the lives of surrounding communities. The portion of the article that talked about measuring water health through an analysis of ecological health was specifically interesting to me. I'm currently in an intro biology lab that is focused on tracking the sources of fecal contamination in Woods Creek and we use similar processes to those discussed in the article. The presence of different stream macro invertebrates can signal health or contamination depending on the different composition and function of the various organisms. Although fecal contamination has not drastically damaged biodiversity or general stream health I think its an interesting connection between different contaminants.

One thing that I did not connect with in this paper was the actual quantification of cost in terms of dollars. To me $345 billion seems like a lot of money, but I have trouble really getting a grasp of what such a large amount of money really means. I found the connections to actual day to day life and the descriptions of a house and its inhabitants covered in dust and the increase in propensity to disease much more useful to understanding the impacts of the life cycle of coal. With this I also did not realize how large of a process the actual combustion and creation of usable coal was. There are so many steps and processes that I continually asked myself while reading this when the long list of negative impacts would end.

Another section of this paper that really stuck out to me was the portion about pregnant women in coal mining areas. Women living in close proximity to mining areas have an estimated 16% increase in odds of having a low weight birth. Low weight birth can lead to poor health in childhood and adolescence as well as poor development into adult years. How are these problems not being readily addressed? What are the reactions from people who live in these areas who are no employed in mining? I would like to do some research into what reactions to increased research on the negative impacts of mining are. Have these people accepted their fate as mining companies destroy their homes, lands, and life? This article was truly shocking, but a really interesting read.

Rachel Stone

Coal is the leading export of Pennsylvania, my home state. More specifically, Pennsylvania generated over $1.3 billion in coal exports last year. So it is something that I have always heard about but of which I never really knew the full impact. Reading through the extensive list of negative externalities that Epstein discusses was shocking. I knew that there were environmental effects and even health effects from the mines, but it's never been made so clear to me how damaging coal mining truly is. Epstein said that accounting for all the externalities over the life cycle of coal that we use for electricity "doubles to triples the price of coal per kWh of electricity generated." We mentioned in class today how inefficiently coal was used--that only about 1/3 actually went to some form of electricity. If we focused not only on including social costs in our price of coal but also looked for more efficient ways to use the coal that has been mined, the environment would play a significantly smaller role than we are currently forcing it to.

Something that really stuck out to me was the number of abandoned mine lands throughout the United States. In particular, Epstein said that there are over 1,700 in Pennsylvania alone. Again, I knew that coal had always been a major economic driver in Pennsylvania, but I did not realize the extent to which that was true. This is the shocking reality: "In some—like that in Centralia, PA—fires burn for decades, emitting carbon monoxide, and other fumes. The ground above others can open, and several people die each year falling into them. Still others flood and lead to contaminated ground water." Epstein said that PA officials would need to dedicate $15 billion over six decades to clean up all these abandoned mines. It's crazy to think that these statistics are out there, yet we still aren't doing anything to change our ways. Like we talked about in class today, it just seems that no politician is willing to run on such a platform.

Yishu Liu

I found this article to be incredibly well written and detailed, even if it is a bit outdated. In particular, the cost per kWh of coal externalities is stated to be 17.84 cents, with low range of 9.42 cents and high range of 26.89 cents. My understanding is that this cost does not include the market price of coal at the time. To put things in perceptive, the current cost of electricity in all of US averages to about 10 cents per kWh, with ranges between 7.86 cents per kWh (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas) and 21.22 cents per kWh (Alaska and Hawaii). The data I am using is from the US Energy Information Administration of December 2015 and does not specific the cost electricity from coal alone. On the other hand, the current cost of electricity from geothermal renewable sources is about 6 cents per kWh on average. It makes more economic sense to be using electricity from renewable sources just based on cost alone, even without the externalities. I am curious to know if coal’s contribution to CO2 levels are still at 81% of all CO2 emissions in US today. I would guess the percentage might be lower today because fewer coal plants are in production today than in 2005.

This article is a very interesting and mind boggling read for me. The thought of writing a research paper to the depth that the author went into is daunting. I totally understand why the authors would not want to do an update on this analysis. I was blown away by the level of detail the authors included in the externality of coal. In class, we talked about the main externalities from energy usage, which are changes in air quality, ecosystem, groundwater quality. Alternatively, the paper used economic, human health, environment, and other as categories of externalities and looked for effects in those categories in every step of the life cycle of coal. The amount of research and level of detail the authors went into is eye-opening. For example, they listed “Loss of income from small scale forest gathering and farming (e.g., wild ginseng, mushrooms) due to habitat loss” under economic effects of coal mining, which is not something we would usually associate or think about with economic effects of coal mining. Although, coal has a leg up against renewable energies due to its massive supply and wide distribution network.

Shlomo Honig

I found the concept of the value of a statistical life (VSL) to be quite intriguing. Though I’m not sure how exactly they calculated an average life to be worth $7.5 million, this figure was very important to this paper due to both the direct and indirect effects that coal exploration, mining, transportation, refining, and burning have on society and human health. It was interesting that even though this figure represents the value of a typical life, the paper did not consider changes in this monetary value based on education, occupation, region, race, and many other important variables in their regional analysis. If this value held true for the economically struggling regions in Appalachia, where the education, jobs, and health of communities are adversely impacted by coal mining, then we would see more policy shaped around protecting the value of these people’s lives. The value of a human life has gone up since this paper was published, and it is important for policy to be shaped around fully compensating the affected people for any harm done to them by private coal companies in order to disincentive harmful practices.
Additionally, if the whole world were to be held accountable for their carbon emissions and pay a tax of $30/ton of CO2 equivalent, then the overall cost of that tax on the people of the world would be incredibly large. Assuming that our annual emissions are, in fact, ~41 gigatons of CO2 equivalent (as a high estimate for 2030 from the article) or 29 gigatons as a low estimate (from online sources), then the total burden of that tax would be roughly $1.23 trillion from the high estimate or $870 billion from the low estimate. Granted, a little under 10% of carbon dioxide emissions come from human respiration (https://micpohling.wordpress.com/2007/03/27/math-how-much-co2-is-emitted-by-human-on-earth-annually/, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2009/08/7_billion_carbon_sinks.html), but most of the rest comes from electricity, transportation, and industry (http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/co2.html).
Beyond the shear size of this figure and that forming a global coalition to force companies to be held accountable for their actions is unlikely to transpire, I think it forces us to ask the question of why we are tolerating such a substantial externality and not fixing it by accounting for the true costs to society. This article does a good job of addressing the aspect of this argument related to coal emissions, although the argument itself is incomplete, and the spread of this information and its implementation in policy should be much greater than it is today.

Jacob Strauss

One aspect that stuck out to me was the commentary on jobs and subsidies. Obviously the coal interests are quite strong in DC and each time a discussion of environmental regulations arises or people propose cutting back on coal subsidies the response is always that any action that hurts the coal industry will cost too many jobs. The authors point out that jobs have already declined dramatically do to technological improvements, which means many of the existing jobs won't be available to someone without a decent education in the first place. A quick google search on the issue brings up an example from Pennsylvania where the coal industry claimed they created 250,000 jobs in the state, but research from Pennsylvania's Department of Labor showed total job creation at under 30,000. The type of analysis in this paper is needed for state's to fully understand what the benefits are from the coal industry and what the costs are. Kentucky is losing money without even fully considering the environmental and health costs of the industry.

I also thought their comment that they were unable to measure all environmental costs and health costs, particularly to mental health, so that their total figures were likely an underestimate. If we're losing species in Appalachia at a rate so fast we don't even have an opportunity to discover all of them, how exactly could anyone quantify that loss? I am pessimistic that we will ever pass regulations to ensure we pay the true social cost of coal when we consume electricity, but ideally analysis like this moves us in the right direction.

Benjamin Bayles

I think this article brings about many of the costs associated with coal that people never fully realize. So much is talked about global warming and the carbon emissions that emerge from burning coal other environmental issues can be easily overlooked. Granted the article is slightly dated, it attributed “2,800 cases of lung cancer, 38,200 non fatal heart attacks and tens of thousands of emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and lost work days” to coal-related pollutants. While I knew there were other adverse effects to burning coal I did not realize, until this article, how expansive they have been.

I also did not completely understand the chemical makeup of coal, but it appears to be comprised of every substance we have been taught to avoid, ie. “mercury, lead,… arsenic,… carcinogenic substances.” These substances are not only released in the burning of coal, but as we have discussed briefly in class, they are released in every stage of the process (extraction, transport, processing and combustion). If pollutants are released at every stage however, this should make pollution reduction easier in the long run. Innovation in any stage of the process should lead to pollution reduction.

Jonah M Mackay

It has been clear for some time now that coal production is just about the worst way to produce energy. This article puts the nail in the coffin when it comes to the costs of coal to society. Clearly, the price on our utility bills is not the one we are paying. Across the board, social costs are higher due to the exacerbating effects of coal production on global warming, acid rain, etc. but in areas where coal is mined and harvested costs skyrocket

Most troubling of the issues mentioned in the paper, however, is that of mountaintop removal mining. Going beyond what is mentioned in the article, photos of mountaintop removal hammers Epstein et al's point home. Landscapes are irrevocably altered, and industrial sites and equipment nestle close to residential homes and acres of yet untouched wilderness. It is a stark contrast. Seeing the lush and beautiful hills of West Virginia or Pennsylvania turned to a post-apocalyptic slag heap is a great injustice.

The people of these mining communities also are subject to the enormous externalities of coal. Flooding causes damage to homes, roads, and landscapes. Communities move away, leaving homes and towns vacant to avoid pollution. These mining practices are destabilizing not only the environment, but also communities.

What also concerns me, is our nations dependence on coal as an energy source, and the strength of the coal lobby. It is hard to achieve the change our communities, ecosystems, and country needs with such impressive barriers to overcome. While the recommendation section in the paper was helpful, it would be better in the future for researchers to team up with other academics and professionals to try and outline concrete plans to affect change. Piles of research and analysis are not helpful if they are not applied and used by organizations and governments to affect change.

Photos for reference:http://earthjustice.org/slideshow/images-of-mountaintop-removal-mining

Matt Parker

I found this article really well written and informative as it contained a lot of detail. I think it helped contextualize and put an actual number on what we all seem to know (except for our friends in Washington it seems): coal is hazardous to our health and to the envrionment. There are just so many externalities that have to be considered when dealing with coal that just seem to be forgotten, or tolerated by society. Furthermore, as we discussed in class Tuesday, an over reliance on fossil fuels and coal is dangerous to our energy "portfolio." All it would take is some exogenous shock that took out coal/oil production and our country would be in a great deal of trouble.

It also really concerns me that their seems to be a refusal in Congress to address these concerns as money continues to pour in from coal and other nonrenewable energy businesses.
Are campaign contributions and lobbyists that influential that they become blind to science and reasoning? It's really an unfortunate situation that we find ourselves in, especially for those living and working in these mining communities who are hurt even more by the excavation and production of coal. Hopefully the researchers can team up with lobbyists and action groups for the renewable energy side of the argument to put this incredibly in-depth analysis into a plan to enact some sort of change that we so desperately need.

Amanda Wahlers

This paper was a really enlightening read for me as someone who grew up outside of Appalachia and has never really thought much about coal. Growing up, a lot of the environmental concerns I heard expressed focused on our use of oil and natural gas, and I honestly assumed that coal was no longer used as an energy source on any significant scale. When I read about W&L’s pre-orientation trip focused on the coal mining industry, I thought it probably analyzed the impact that declines in the use of coal have had on employment in the region. I now realize that the harvesting of coal may negatively impact the lives of those in the region more than a complete end to the industry would; in the context of the pre-o trip it was also fascinating to learn from this paper that MTR jobs represent less than 1% of West Virginia’s labor force.

I especially liked the comprehensive table presented in this paper detailing the negative impacts in each of several categories of the process of harvesting of coal. It was surprising to me how many of the negative impacts arise from the steps prior to burning it to generate energy- although its combustion, of course, also has huge implications in the context of climate change. This was the first I have heard of proposals to capture and store carbon emissions underground and I think the paper very effectively outlines why this policy is likely to be costlier than it is worth- especially considering how it doesn’t sound like an effective long term solution at all with probable impacts on groundwater and the possibility of releasing carbon into the atmosphere anyways. The solutions suggested by the author to address the future of energy policy in the U.S. are encouraging and sound like they would greatly improve the lives of thousands in the region if they were able to surmount the obstacle of the powerful interests of the coal industry.

Spencer Payne

I would like to declare at the outset that I am going to take a different stance on the implications of this paper than many of those who have posted previously. For while I recognize that this paper vigorously outlines the myriad of negative externalities brought about as a result of extracting, transporting, processing, and combusting coal, I do not believe that its findings incriminate the coal industry as much as some may suggest.

This paper makes it very clear that the social costs associated with using coal are very high, approximately $345 billion, due to pollution and irrevocable environmental damage, among other things. Epstein et al. even say that 41 percent of global CO2 emissions in 2005 can be attributed to coal harvest and consumption. To combat these issues, the authors suggest that measures to negate the negative effects (e.g. poor water quality) linked to coal use and to improve energy substitutes should be undertaken.

But while I too am concerned about the detrimental spillover effects of the coal industry and believe that its problems must be addressed, I am not convinced that increasing coal severance tax rates in an effort to drastically reduce coal consumption, as Epstein et al. suggest, is of immediate policy concern. Based on the facts presented and questions that remain unanswered, it can be argued that we lack sufficient information to further restrict the coal industry.

For one, this paper is somewhat limited. Although I acknowledge that it would be difficult to accomplish, Epstein et al. do not address the abatement costs associated with coal consumption. Based on this paper’s findings, can we definitively say that having people use less coal would have a more desirable net effect on society than if people are able to consume coal at their current rate? Who really knows? If we suppose that everyone on the margin would consume natural gas if coal severance tax rates rise, that change in behavior would likely prompt increased natural gas production, which could actually harm society and the environment more than if people are incentivized to change their behavior.

This concern leads me to my next point. The reason we do not know really if deterring coal consumption is the best way to combat current threats to biodiversity is because there is little to no literature available that outlines the social costs associated with other energy sources, like this paper does. In my opinion, this lack of information diminishes the strength of the authors’ recommendations and coal policy amendment proposals in general.

And finally, the fact that “as levels of mining increase, so do poverty rates and unemployment rates, while educational attainment rates and house hold income decline” is somewhat comforting. This reality implies that there is, in fact, a disincentive to harvest coal in the existing market and therefore, in theory, that the market could be capable of facilitating the optimal amount of coal production and consumption.

For these reasons, I believe that the implications of this paper should be modest. The paper is somewhat limited and, in the absence of more information about the social costs associated with other energy sources, should be cited carefully in policy discussions. Improving biodiversity is important, but — in my opinion — developing plans to achieve that goal must be supported by very strong evidence.

Ali Norton

In determining the total cost of coal mining, the paper’s discussion of negative externalities, particularly public health related costs stood out. The paper names black lung disease and lung cancer to be two illnesses that U.S. miners are affected by. While the authors claim the coal industry bears some internal costs in the form of wages and workers’ compensation, the long-term costs of these illnesses are often supported by state and federal funds. If a workers diagnosis of black lung disease, lung cancer, or any other illness with potential long-term affects are determined to be caused by mining work, it seems that these costs of care for treating these illnesses should also be born by the coal industry. Because the paper cites that there are 19 chemicals used and generated in the mining process that are cancer-causing agents, and 24 chemicals that are “linked” to lung and heart damage, with other chemicals potentially leading to other health effects, I find it astounding that the industry is not held fully accountable for these negative health consequences resulting from production. As the percentage of coal powered electricity used in the U.S. is anticipated to keep rising through 2030, it seems crucial that the industry be held to a stricter accountability standard for the harmful consequences both for the environment and for public health.

Maddi Boireau

All ter in my global climate change course, our professor has been saying, "there's no such thing as clean coal." I thought I knew what she meant, especially as we progress through the term. This article has only enhanced what I've learned thus far. From the Introduction I was already taken aback by the facts of coal pollution and especially by the fact that coal usage is continuing to increase after everything that we already know about it and what it does not only to our climate but to our own health.
I do somewhat agree with Spencer. This article, kind of made the coal miners out to be the bad-guys in this whole situation. They are really just doing their jobs. As long as we are demanding the coal, they will keep supplying the coal. I'm surprised that as a society we keep demanding so much. Like Spencer said, "the fact that “as levels of mining increase, so do poverty rates and unemployment rates, while educational attainment rates and house hold income decline” is somewhat comforting." However, for me it is comforting to know that it isn't going unnoticed that environmental racism is a noticed phenomenon and as a society we may finally see this problem. The 3% increase in coal usage could easily be in the double digits so maybe eventually we can get to a 0% increase and then start to reduce our usage.

Benie Bolohan

Reading the article, it seems quite clear to me that the costs of using coal—at least in the way that we did during the time when this article was written—outweigh the benefits when there are so many development opportunities to sustainable energies exist. Mountain top removal, for example, contaminates the water with heavy metals and carcinogens. If such processes increase the risk of cancer for an entire population, then that is a huge cost that dramatically impacts peoples’ lives. I am not sure if such information was as easily accessible for the worker population at the time, but I believe that this cost is not necessarily accounted for in the market because of an imperfect information market failure. I am curious if those whose health is directly impacted by mountain top removal would react in such a way that the market supply would shift accordingly. If so, I’d suspect that prices would increase enough to encourage people to look for alternatives to energy from coal.

Another thing I found particularly interesting was the map of biodiversity “hotspots” in the United States. Among some of the areas designated to be the highest levels of biodiversity were also some of the areas with the highest levels of coal mining, mountain top removal, and more. The habitat destruction and contamination associated with such detrimental processes impacts the amount of biodiversity significantly. This reminded me of chapter 14. If these habitats are destroyed and the biodiversity is diminished, they cannot be recovered in the short term. So, while we may receive temporary private benefits from such activities, in the long run there is more to be gained from not partaking in habitat destruction.

Mitchell Brister

At this point in the course, I am really not surprised at the findings of this paper. Coal use has costs to society that the current price doesn't even begin to capture. Coal use is bad for the environment. Does it matter exactly how bad? No, not really. Its bad and therefore we should be trying to phase out of coal. The exact amount of damage is only important if we were going to include the total cost into the price of coal which will most likely never happen.

Its nice to think about a clean grid and everyone being responsible, but without incentives on a large scale, that scenario might as well exist in Narnia. Until there is some sort of disincentive for firms to find an alternative source of fuel, and the social cost is included into the price of coal, or any fossil fuel for that matter, then nothing will change. These papers will continue to be published and there will continue to be debates, but I fear it will be too little to late before those who choose to be blind to the environment are slapped in the face by an emergency scenario. I swear I had a good day today.

Alison Peacock

Like Owen, I am in introduction to biology and bio lab. This week, we took bug samples from woods creek to check the health of the water. Certain species of bugs are more tolerant of pollution in the water while other species can only survive in unpolluted water. By counting the amount and types of bugs within a water source, a ratio can be created to show the health of the body of water. It is interesting to see something we have worked on in lab being applied in the real world even though these results in the study are quite depressing.

Another part of the article that stood out to me was the coal combustion waste that is made up of toxic chemicals. These chemicals are known to cause cancer, birth defects, neurological damage, and learning disabilities. With such detrimental effects from being exposed to this compound, I am very surprised that the impoundment ponds where this CCW is held are poorly made. I understand that getting policy through DC that cuts back on coal is very difficult to do, but the regulations on the impoundment ponds should be heightened. The article stated that “1 in 50 residents living in Kentucky, including 1 in 100 children, living near one of the fly ash ponds are at risk of developing cancer as a result of water- and air-borne exposure to waste” (Epstein et al.). With one child out of every 100 children at risk of developing cancer as a result of CCW, something needs to change drastically.

On another note, as we talked in class, I learned that the process of converting coal into energy is highly inefficient. If only 1/3 of the coal is used for energy, how come we have not improved this technology? If coal is in such high demand, I would have assumed that there is a high market for more efficient technology in regards to coal.

Emily Rollo

I think this article does a really good job at highlighting all the costs of the coal harvesting industry on the environment. The most interesting part of the article to me was the section on coal production’s contributions to climate change. I think it’s widely known that coal harvesting is responsible for large amounts of carbon emission and global warming. However, I think the effects it has on climate change are very underestimated. It is was until reading this article that I realized the detrimental effects coal production puts on the environment. At Professor Greer’s talk on climate change earlier this semester, she ultimately was trying to explain that we are currently experiencing very warm atmospheric and water levels. We should actually be going through a cold period and instead we are seeing melting ice, rising sea levels and warming of the land. This is in line with what Epstein et al. is saying about the effects of carbon emission from coal harvesting on the climate. These climate change damages are costly to other economic factors as well such as real estate and insurance values. The total costs of climate changes from coal-derived power industries accumulated to $63.9 billion at the time the article was written. At a global economic level, the losses have reached 20% of gross domestic product. I think it is often underestimated how much economic loss the world receives from coal burning. These costs were projected to increase, so I think it would be interesting to look at the value of the costs to the economy today.

William Bannister

I think the first thing that struck me about this article is just how much content it has on all the detrimental affects of coal, that stretches far beyond what I personally have tended to think of. We all know of the issue of burning coal and its negative affects on the atmosphere with greenhouse gas emissions, but there is so much more to coal than that. As Ben mentions above, coal burning causing lung cancer and heart attacks etc. is something that I don't think gets as much attention as it should.

The issue with attempting to reduce coal mining and usage is that, as mentioned in class, it is the most abundant fossil fuel resource out there, and in theory, as long as there is demand for producing goods and services via fossil fuels, then there will continue to be a market for coal. Something encouraging to be noted however, is the increased price competitiveness renewable energy resources now have. The abstract alludes to this, and actually in an article I read today for a different class, I found out that the price of fossil-fuel power averaged out at $35kWh, and the price for wind power and solar power was $29 and $57 respectively. The fact that wind is now cheaper than fossil fuel power, and solar is closing in, is hugely encouraging for the future. With technology ever improving and prices of renewable energy continuing to fall, it is becoming more and more believable that there will be suitable, financially viable replacements for fossil fuels, and maybe the various forecasted figures for coal usage in 2030 that were mentioned in the article, will in fact be much, much lower.

Katherine Pranka

I found this article incredibly interesting. Some of the detailed facts were shocking to me, but most of it was pretty straightforward. I wanted to talk about mountain top removal in my blog post, because I think it is so depressing. I love mountains, and they're one of the reasons I chose to come to Virginia for school, so I think it is really sad when someone decides to destroy that natural beauty. The utility for me to leave the mountains there is much higher, because I enjoy looking at the mountains more than I enjoy the coal that they provide. However the in mountain coal removal is so dangerous. I grew up about 30 minutes away from the site of one of the worst mining disasters in the history of the United States. It was always really sad driving past the hill once in a while. Therefore, I see the benefits of not sending miners into the mountain. However, I also just think that there should be better sources for energy than coal, because it is so inefficient. Therefore, my take away from this article is that we should be trying to find better energy sources.

Mackenzie Dalton

This paper gives an insight into all the steps coal goes through and all the negative outcomes and costs that come from our use of coal. The detailed facts about how coal negatively impacts our lives was very concerning. Coal is such a big part of our economy and would be difficult to move away from by investing in more sustainable energy. However, this paper shows how it is necessary to at least begin the process of equating the social cost of coal to the private costs. Coal has a huge amount of negative ecological and health impacts on society and disproportionally hurts the impoverished. Although this paper doesn't show the cost of coal reducing coal use to industry, it predicts the cost coal is actually having on our lives. This market isn't efficient when the social and private costs are not equated and we should strive to fix this problem. Starting with a small tax or another incentive could help encourage alternate energy sources or push for cleaner technology. Then gradually as technology increases through new innovations the abatement cost of getting rid of coal would become gradually less. We do not have an policy for fixing this problem and need to before it keeps hurting our society. This could at least start to mitigate the problems associated with coal.

Morgan Trimas

The first striking comment from this article is how much coal we use compared to how completely inefficient and harmful it is to the environment and us. To me, it seems tragic and disappointing that we have turned to coal use on such a wide scale even after these discoveries and are not avidly and desperately seeking alternative energy sources on a large scale. However, I think this idea of life cycle analysis is a critical one in formulating policy and is a step in the right direction to make these large scale changes. Before entering this class, I admittedly did not think much to the importance of valuing environmental costs in monetary terms, as I did not see how something so large as loss of life or loss of an entire ecosystem could be quantified. However, after reading this piece and several others from this class, I now appreciate more the immense work done to quantify these costs/externalities. Even if they are not an absolute and definitive estimate, they certainly can be used to require shareholders to partake in some of the costs of environmental damages, and I think the inclusion of low, best, and high estimates can help quantify this uncertainty. I do wish the article had gone into further detail as to how they derived their best estimates, as they were not necessarily averages of the low and high estimates and their derivations were a little hard to follow.
I find one of the most disheartening objectives with coal to be mountaintop removal, as it completely obliterates entire forest ecosystems that will never be the same again (at least in any foreseeable future), it disrupts civilians living in the valleys below, and it causes severe amounts of water pollution. It is obvious after this reading that there are huge amounts of health concerns associated with coal use, and I wonder if this was publicized on a large scale if we would see a massive push towards alternatives, as people’s health is a major issue of protest and concern when forming policy, as demonstrated by the recent concerns over Flint, Michigan. Another interesting point made is that levels of mining and poverty/unemployment are indirectly related, and I wonder what the reasoning for that is and how that can factor into the overall coal cost evaluation. A common theme throughout this paper seems to be a highlight on the discrepancies between varying agencies, such as the disagreements over “safe” levels of PM2.5- I wonder what kinds of biases are present in these studies that would cause such discrepancies in data analysis and gathering. Finally, the estimated number of the externalities related to coal was astonishing. If firms were required to internalize those externalities (which I am assuming were calculated based on a per year scenario for the US only), I doubt we would see nearly as much coal production, especially in cases such as the state of Kentucky, where coal mining already causes the state a loss of $115 million. I also think the estimate would be much higher if some of the limitations/exclusions were included.

Elizabeth Wolf

The first question that struck me upon beginning to read this paper was the somewhat startling “Why haven’t I heard of this before?” Arguably, a work this substantial, with seemingly every angle analyzed and quantified, should be sensational. Yet mainstream media, and even mainstream politics, startlingly ignores this seemingly irrefutable quantitative evidence of the true expense of the inefficiency of the market is startlingly at best. One element that I thought was extremely poignant was in regard to cancer and the low birth weight effects directly generated by carbon emissions. These externalities extend far beyond environmental damage. Coal mining drains areas socio-economically, harms the children both in utero and developmentally, and of course causes environmental damage that we are all familiar with.
As a related but different point an aside, inspired by Mitch’s question and of course the Epstein paper regarding the full cost of coal, I did some further research into the volume of one pound of carbon at room temperature. While the calculations are rather black and white, I found it difficult to wrap my head around what exactly those dimensions meant. However, I found a few images that were helpful to me in grasping the scale of our emissions, here’s the link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonquilt/8229754868/in/photostream/
What I think this paper, and in a different way these images, do is quantify each individual aspect of the process of carbon being taken out of the ground to its release into the atmosphere. The obvious weak link, and therefore even more obviously the enabler for most environmental negative externalities, is the current political system in which the silent majority of those that suffer from excess carbon pollution and suffer private and social cost. However, the minority that privately benefits from the lack of appropriate pricing is a powerful group. What was also illuminating is the US Federal and State Government subsidization of the coal industry. As established both by Kahn and Epstein, coal sources around the world are prevalent, which is counterintuitive to subsidizing and industry as their supply is guaranteed for the next approximately 200 years. And yet there are “aggregate damages of $65 billion, including damages to public health, property, crops, forests, foregone recreation, and visibility due to emissions from coal-fired power plants” (86). To say that the continuation of this damage is confusing is putting it mildly, but the lack of political action and inadequate information can be blamed for much of these damages. That, however, does not diminish the alarming effects outlined by Epstein on the far-reaching damage that occurs due to this inefficient usage, and pricing, of coal.

Murray Manley

After reading this article, I did a little bit of research and found that coal provides about 7 million jobs worldwide; in the United States, coal-related jobs provide about 174,000 jobs (Wikipedia). Although environmental issues should not be related to government policy and politics, unfortunately energy conservation, “going green,” and using cleaner fuels often do fall under the platforms of politicians. Many of these topics are controversial, and with good reason. The article outlines the true cost of coal, burning coal, mining coal, etc; and what they come up with is astonishing. The authors state, “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 cents per kWh of electricity generated from coal. What the article doesn’t focus on is the opportunity cost of switching in the short run; unfortunately, people don’t consider the long-term future and what is beneficial for their health, for the water supply, and for the ozone when their job and livelihood is at stake. What is the total cost of switching to an entirely new industry? What will happen to all of the coal mining towns and the people who are left jobless? The cynic in me is disinclined to believe that any beneficial governmental policies will arise limiting coal use in the future. Why? Because that would not be a popular choice among many Americans; that would not bode well for re-elections in the following year. Until that point when the government either chooses to tax coal enough to make up for the externality, or when they significantly subsidize research for alternative fuels and eliminate subsidies for coal, nothing is going to change any time soon. Because the price of coal is still relatively cheap (thanks to government subsidization) and hasn’t changed, people have no reason to innovate or switch entirely to another fuel source. And even if they did, the issue of coal-related negative externalities (lung cancer, climate change, acid rain, etc) are global issues, not something a private corporation or US government branch could solve all on its own.

Mamie Smith

While reading this article, many questions kept drifting through my mind as they always do. First of all, I had never distinguished coal for electric power from coal for other uses, such as transportation. Why exactly did the authors of this study only limit themselves to only power uses? Was it because of difficulty in collecting data for non-power uses? I thought it was helpful that they identified measurable, quantifiable, and qualitative costs because they all definitely do matter. However, I had always thought of "measurable" and "quantifiable" as one concept. Is there a prominent distinction as far as economics?

I remember learning in Kim Cowgill's class that China consumes the most coal and that the US has the most coal reserves. It made me wonder what actions, if any, other countries could take to lessen emissions and help China to find other sources because it has such a collective, overall, and conclusive effect on the world. First of all, what policies has China come up with? Is there a large effort in their country, and how does culture play into their environmental perspective? Also, are there any ways for other countries to enforce mutual agreements, treaties, and policies in multiple countries without becoming standoffish or violent? I guess certain countries could place embargoes and tariffs on other countries, but that would be more of a country-country relation, not so much international-country relation. Have embargoes and tariffs ever been used for environmental reasons, which are ethical in some ways? (I know they're mostly used during wars, etc.) Are there any other methods?

Also, as a final point, I remember reading about the carbon capture and storage (CCS) method and completing disagreeing with its purpose. In my opinion, that method would not be sustainable at all. Those types of "solutions" that are so expensive and try to lesson/change the path of the issue instead of entirely confronting the cause of the issue just send society into dizzy circles of confusion and a messy world. I do not think it would be economically efficient at all. Is there a large group of people who do? I guess I could see the usefulness of CCS in a case that could not be avoided as long as we could get the costs to a manageable level and not create any more problems in the process, but for coal, which has so many alternatives, it does not seem practical.

Matthew Inglis

Like some other students have said, this paper would have been alarming if I were not aware of the problems associated with the coal life cycle. Throughout the term, we have been informed on the cycle's detrimental effects to the environment. As Prof. Casey has said, this paper examines the moment coal is extracted from the earth to the time it comes out of the exhaust pipe. I like the way Epstein et al. included a table to explain the varying impacts of each part of the cycle. What I found in new information in this table was the impacts other than those that are environmental and economic. The environmental and economic effects are clearly important to analyze in an environmental economics course, but the effects on humans are major in understanding the implications of coal use - especially since people are more likely to be against something if they are being harmed. If there were no visible effects to humans, then solely the damages caused by coal may not be convincing enough. Additionally, the damages are not only to workers extracting the coal. They are widespread and felt by everyone - most notably during the coal combustion phase where the human effect is "increased mortality and morbidity due to combustion pollution." I sometimes wonder why we haven't done more to counter these effects, and then I am reminded that there is a lot of money to be made from coal production. Although, hopefully we can eventually work together as humans to move towards a healthier world.

Walker Abbott

This article was an incredible example of the chapters we discussed in class Tuesday. I think it is easy to forget the environmental impacts and emissions that occur at every step of the way when it comes to obtaining energy for consumption. I thought the step by step layout of the article made the environmental, social, economic, climate, and public health implications of coal mining very clear.
I did find it alarming that health impacts due to mortality were based on the value of statistical life. How are individual, and collective (7.5 million), lives given a monetary value?
The section of the article on the local impacts of coal mining/ processing were particularly poignant to me. In Southern Virginia, there has been a push to mine one of the world's largest uranium deposits on Cole's Hill in Chatham, Virginia (only 30 miles from my hometown). I live on a farm directly downriver (Banister River) from the deposit, and the Banister feeds into the Roanoke River Basin and eventually the Chesapeake Watershed. The risk of groundwater contamination affecting millions of people in Virginia and North Carolina is too great with uranium contamination.
In Danville, Virginia, also near my hometown, there was a Duke Energy coal ash (39,00 tons) spill that occurred in February 2014. Groundwater in the area is still being affected. As of now, North Caroline has fined Duke 6.6 million.
The local impacts, however, whether it be coal mining, coal ash, or uranium mining, are not just environmental. Yes, ecosystems are affected and habitat is destroyed, but local economies and standards of living are degraded by these energy industries. If the ban on uranium mining in Virginia was too be lifted, I fear that my hometown would become a "ghost town".
I appreciated that the authors did include a comprehensive list at the end of the article, including many points we have brought up in class. It was refreshing to see that the authors, clearly experts on the subject, called for an end to the MTR method of mining and demanded habitat restoration.

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