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Maisie Strawn

I found this paper really interesting. I think it is quite powerful to be able to actually point to the monetary costs of coal mining, transport, combustion, and waste disposal especially when arguing for the need to move towards renewable energy sources. Many of the statistics and facts in the paper were alarming, and I have always considered coal to be “bad,” I just did not realize how costly it is. On a hopeful note, however, this paper is almost ten years old now, and it seems that they overestimated how much coal we would be using today and in the future. They predict, in this 2011 paper, that by 2030 coal will account for 53% of U.S. power, a general upward trend from the 50% of U.S. energy coal produced in 2005. Surprisingly and hopefully, we have actually seen a fairly steep decline in the share of U.S. electricity coming from coal. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal only accounted for 23.5% of U.S. energy production (https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3). I have some guesses about why we saw this trend (natural gas), but I would love to discuss in class why it was so dramatically opposite what this paper anticipated. This downward trend in coal use ( even without policy forcing the internalization of any of the costs listed in this paper) makes me think about all that could be accomplished in the sustainable energy field, if we DO begin to craft policies to internalize these costs. Surely, coal production would cease in Kentucky, for example, where this study finds coal results in a loss of $115 million dollars to the state even without factoring in costs of “healthcare, lost productivity, water treatment for siltation and water infrastructure, limited development potential due to poor air quality, and social expenditures associated with declines in employment and related economic hardships of coal-field communities.” The cost of limited development potential is especially poignant as I believe that members of coal-mining communities are often manipulated and falsely led to believe that coal is their only opportunity for employment. In fact, this study finds that increased levels of mining are correlated with higher poverty and unemployment rates and lower levels of educational attainment and household income.

Didi Pace

Coal is cheap, reliable, and abundant in comparison to other energy sources. Coal advocates argue that coal is cheaper than proposed alternatives such as wind or solar. However, the social cost of coal is significantly greater than the amount on our electricity bill. Accounting for the true cost of coal throughout extraction, transportation, processing, and combustion actually makes coal one of the most expensive energy sources. While we are not physically seeing these higher costs on our bills, we are nonetheless bearing costs. It is as if the coal industry is heavily taxing the public (in the form of severe health consequences, property value loss, etc.) and the government/coal companies are turning a blind eye. The poor, unfortunately, disproportionately bear the brunt of these costs. In my opinion, if the adverse consequences of coal were distributed evenly across the nation (to the wealthy as well), change would have already occurred years ago.

Mikki Whittington

This article is comprehensive, a bit shocking, and enlightening. As someone who has regularly studied the environment and public health in my education I was aware of quite a few of the negative externalities associated with the extraction and use of coal, but I still found the list presented in this article (which technically isn't even completely exhausted) to be beyond what I had realized the coal industry is capable of. I was surprised to learn that Nitrogen emissions from the coal industry can become deposited within waterways to eventually cause algal blooms. I think that many people who don't consider the potential issues with the coal industry would be horrified to read through the extent of negative externalities from this paper, and yet, there still has not been a widespread mass movement to reduce and eventually end the extraction and use of coal. All of the evidence (economic, environmental, public health) points towards any other source for electricity, but we continue to pursue mountaintop removal and coal extraction. Even if we ignore any kind of moral obligation towards protecting the environment and our fellow human beings, this article and the article we read that focused on public health outcomes in MTR communities have still caused me to question why we allow politicians to make policy decisions that are so rooted in economics. I suppose the argument can be made that all decisions have roots in economics, but my point is that despite the clear cut economic evidence for reducing and eventually ending coal usage, we still rely extremely heavily on coal for our energy needs.

Nikki Doherty

It is troublesome that the externalities related to coal conservatively cost around $345.3 billion, even without including all theoretical and probable costs (omitting environmental, community, mental health, economic, and other impacts that do not have a method of quantification). Though the paper suggests that coal mining impacts mental health, it does not dive deeper into specifics. The potential for coal mining to impact mental health is interesting to me, especially as mining-dependent economies tend to be in disadvantaged areas at which intersection mental illness may be increasingly problematic or severe. An article by Hendryx (2010) finds that members of coal-mining counties self-report significantly less healthy days for both physical and mental health than members of non-coal-mining counties. Within coal-mining communities, this may be induced by stress of hearing explosives. Other research has found that air pollutants themselves, induce inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain (Ali 2019). Ultimately, this inflammation can lead to depression (Ali 2019). A study in Cincinnati has linked child emergency psychiatry visits with exposure to fine particulate matter (Brokamp 2019). Psychiatry visits included anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, suicides, and schizophrenia. The authors’ analysis focused on short-term PM2.5 exposures, only three days before the emergency visits. Importantly, they find that the associations between exposure to particulate and emergency psychiatry visits is stronger among children living in high deprivation areas compared to those in low deprivation areas (Brokamp 2019). A 2019 paper offers a potential monetary quantification of mining’s impact on mental illness (Ali 2019). In China, a 1 standard deviation increase in particulate matter over an average PM2.5 concentration increases the chance of having a mental illness by 6.67% (Ali 2019). The authors offer that this translates to an annual medical expense of $22.9 billion (2019 USD $$) (Ali 2019). I believe this would be around $19.3 billion (2008 US $$) (the units used in Epstein 2011 paper). This is a slightly larger magnitude to what the authors project for a high bound estimate cost of excess cardiovascular disease from mercury emissions. Thus, the potential cost of mental illness may be impactful to the magnitude of coal mining externalities.

Along a similar thread, mining communities (again, typically in disadvantaged areas) may be under a false assumption that mining is their only labor opportunity. The jobs that mining provides has been one of the Trump administration’s arguments for keeping the coal industry growing. As Hendryx pointed out in his interview however, coal mining such as MTR actually drives away labor opportunities by relying on decreasing laborers but also by adding residential risks (and making the area unattractive to big employers). The Epstein paper further warns that mining areas deter migration. Additionally, the paper suggests that the number of jobs within mining are decreasing as the number of coal mining employees decreases by 56%. Moreover, the authors also point out that poverty rates increase as mining levels increase... hence, mining employment may be offering a false picture of affluence to locals.

The above insights suggest that the social costs of coal mining are most likely higher than $345.3 billion, especially because coal mining is typically based in low SES areas. This is shocking considering how comprehensive the paper already is.

Hendryx 2010 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/003335491012500410
Brokamp 2019 https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp4815
Ali 2019 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6447209/pdf/TOJ-19-0011_4Ali.pdf

Margot McConnell

I found this paper to be really fascinating. My initial reaction is that I did not even really consider the fact that the whole “life cycle” of coal has negative externalities and to consider the full cost, you have to take into account all those externalities. For example, I did not even think about rail fatalities and how that has to be considered in the cost of coal as that is yet another negative externality. I started thinking about coal mining, and some of the attention it received in scenarios like when the miners in Chile were stuck underground back in 2010. It is interesting that coal has so many negative externalities to the environment and to public health as well as the mere fact that it is extremely dangerous to mine.
Something I found interesting is how the costs of coal mining on the health of miners is supposed to be compensated for in their wages, but in the long term, these costs have to be picked up by state or federal funding. Interestingly enough, I bet one would find that the alleged increase in wages probably is not enough to compensate for getting a respiratory diseases like Black Lung.
Additionally, the article briefly mentions the toll on mental health that mountain top removal can play. I found this interesting because it is definitely something people do not focus on when they think of the negative externalities of MTR. However, if you think about it, it makes sense because people and their family and friends are getting sick, and their communities are also being destroyed. How could this not have an impact on their mental health?
After reading this article, I was interested in what Professor Casey had mentioned at one point during last class about the group at Ohio State who is looking to find a way to extract the energy out of coal in a clean way, getting rid of all the negative externalities. They have been working on a new technology called coal-direct chemical looping at Ohio State’s Clean Coal Research Laboratory. Using their technology, the coal is not burned with fire but with a sealed chamber that chemically combusted it and traps all of the harmful products, mainly carbon dioxide, that typically pollute the air. The team argues that while renewables are in the future, this technology could help bridge the gap in transitioning from coal to other forms of clean energy without having to continue to pollute the air.

Allie Case

I appreciated the in-depth approach this article took to explore each stage of coal because it painted an even more grim picture than I imagined. Out of the four different stages, I was most surprised reading about coal processing and just how unhealthy and dangerous it is; for example Epstein writes that “of the known chemicals used and generated in processing coal, 19 are known cancer-causing agents, 24 are linked to lung and heart damage, and several remain untested as to their health effects.” The authors offer a very sobering perspective on the realities of just how terrible the living conditions are in areas close to coal mining in the Appalachia- whether by citing Hendryx’s studies or by pointing out that “heavy metal concentrations…exceeded drinking water standards in one-fourth of households”.
What struck me the most about reading this article is just how many plainly stated facts demonstrate how inefficient coal is. For instance, Epstein cites how in the past 20 years there was a 56% decrease in employment due to mechanization and that “as levels of mining increase, so do poverty rates and unemployment rates…”. When presented with this type of data, it is hard to see how coal usage still has support. Especially for states like Kentucky- where not only is there no revenue generated, but there is over a $115 million net loss due to coal production! Or that the state could save $2.85 billion by removing 500,000 tons of SO2. If the costs are so high, is it because the opportunity costs of switching to a different energy source, something the authors did not look at, are that much more expensive?
On that note, I am curious how this study was received by officials and coal supporters as well as just the general response by communities in areas of coal mining. I thought it was a good addition to include both low and high estimates for every cost analysis as it limits potential bias/much harder to argue against. I will say the one continual optimistic thought I had while reading this paper is knowing that their projections for coal usage have turned out to be quite far off and as of 2019, coal production and usage is way down. They projected that coal would produce 53% of U.S. power, when in reality as of 2019 the U.S. Energy Information Administration puts coal at 23.5% of electricity generation (U.S. Energy). In this paper, they also cite the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) estimates that CO2 emissions would increase around 1.8% each year by 2030. This year, the IEA reported that CO2 emissions plateaued at the 2018 levels for the first time (Nugent, 2020).


Nugent, C. (2020, February 11). 'Grounds for Optimism.' Global CO2 Emissions Plateaued in 2019, Defying Expectations, Says Report. Time. Retrieved from: https://time.com/5782089/iea-emissions-energy-climate-change/

U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis. (2020, February 27). Retrieved from https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3

Sydney Goldstein

This article was interesting because it provides empirical data associated with the many negative externalities that come with the acquisition, use, and dissipation of coal. Something that really stood out to me, is that despite the harm caused to the environment in every stage of coals’s life cycle as well as public health implications such as Black Lung, it is still is the predominant fuel used for electricity generation, and its demand is projected to double by 2030. This is fascinating since the technology for greener alternatives exists, but it goes back to the three I’s: Interest, ideology, and ignorance. Interest is probably the biggest contributor because groups such as coal corporations rely on coal for for profit, and because each of these firms are rent seeking they will try to maximize production efficiency at the point where demand equals their private cost rather than taking into account social costs. Furthermore, they will advocate that coal is the sole way to fuel the nation since there are extensive coal deposits and greener alternatives would be far too costly to implement, despite empirical data suggesting that this is not the case.

On a slightly different, but still relevant note, I recently saw a news article that Takoma Park in Maryland seeks to ban fossil fuels in order to combat climate changes. Takoma Park has already been a pioneer for combatting climate change since they’ve replaced several gas stations with charging stations and have eliminated the use of nuclear power. The new plan furthers these efforts to go green by limiting coal use, banning gas stoves, and closing gas pipelines. The most recent update I’ve seen says that the plan was set to be enacted on March 4th of this year. Seeing the empirical data of how this plan impacts the cost of living as well as measures of environmental wellbeing and public health will be interesting. If the data ends up being favorable this plan could serve as a model to other cities or even states trying to combat climate change, and just maybe we will be able to slow the growth of coal use (and other fossil fuels) so that it doesn’t double by 2030.

Takoma Park articles:
Fox: https://www.foxnews.com/us/liberal-maryland-enclave-seeks-to-ban-fossil-fuels-as-part-of-sweeping-climate-plan
Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/md-politics/takoma-park-fossil-fuel-ban/2020/02/20/307f7c44-5341-11ea-929a-64efa7482a77_story.html

Noah Gallagher

While I wasn't surprised to hear about the many negative externalities that occur throughout the life cycle of a piece of coal, the article does an incredible job of compiling and explaining the damages in detail. The magnitude of the damages is genuinely terrifying, particularly when mountaintop removal is involved.

On of the things that I had expected from the article was the damages to miner health. Miners, both in underground mines and mountaintop removal sites face the dangers of these jobs on a daily basis. Miners know this, at least to some extent, and the danger to their lives tends to be factored into their wages. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons that it is so difficult to replace the jobs that are generated (at least temporarily) from these mining operations. There are not a lot of other jobs that pay a similar wage and hire from the same regions. This is common in Western Colorado and especially in Wyoming, where people will move for jobs in the industry. Overcoming this will be exceptionally difficult politically. Outside of the harms to miners from longwall/MTR coal mining, the harms to the general public and the environment are astounding. Half of a trillion dollars worth of externalities is an outrageous sum for the public to be absorbing.

This article was published in 2011, and since then the coal industry has been in decline throughout the United States. The percent of mines closing has been higher than the percent reduction of production, but both are trending downwards and have been for the past decade. I would be interested in seeing an updated version of this article, showing the current impacts on the US population.

Finally, I enjoyed the discussion of "peak coal", particularly because I have heard the 200-year statistic on several occasions. It makes sense to look at this through an economic lens, rather than a simple look at the available supply - mining operations are not going to find profit in mining every existing piece of coal. A more realistic supply/demand model would tell us that coal is far less viable 20-30 years down the road, which the article does a good job explaining.

Closing coal mine stats: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=38172
Coal mine locations: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=38132

Patrick Sullivan

The methods of discerning the cost of an externality are obviously monumental in nature and make it hard to come to a conclusive result. There are numerous factors that go into being able to accurately and sufficiently quantify the cost of an externality such as coal mining, and the effects it has on numerous parts of human/natural life. Pollution, health hazards, and economic impacts all must be accounted for when it comes to valuing the cost of an externality, but can they be weighed the same? Each individual’s unique utility is the main driving force behind environmental economic valuation. What one person values and takes to be a main pro or con of an externality will be drastically different from that of someone else. Some will want better health benefits and in turn will value those portions of the externality higher than the others. Some may want greater economic benefit, even if it hurts their health. I feel that in order to fully understand the true cost of an externality, you must also completely understand the individual and their preferences. I think this is the main hiccup when it comes to policy decisions/policy making. Policy makers priorities and desires may be drastically different from that of the people they represent. The policy advocators may have the same issue as well when it comes to advocating for policies that don’t reflect the citizens views or needs. I think this is the biggest section missing from the method of cost accounting not just coal, but other negative externalities as well. The inability to understand what others value only adds to the hardship of accurately quantifying the cost of an externality. If more precaution was taken in what costs to highlight when presenting information, based on the audience, then policy decisions may be more beneficial and effective for all.

Valerie Marshall

What I found most interesting about this paper, and which prior to reading this paper I had heard the least about, was the ecosystem effects of coal mining, specifically the negative impacts to biodiversity of MTR mining. Frequently, when the negative externalities of coal mining are discussed, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutant emissions like sulfur dioxide, and water contamination at a level harmful to humans are what most of the conversation consists of. I had heard of the destruction to ecosystems that results from MTR, since the practice consists of blowing up the sides of mountains, but I did not realize the full negative effects of this ecosystem damage in the Appalachian region. What surprised me most when reading this paper was to learn that globall the biodiversity in the headwater streams in the Appalaichian mountains was second only to the biodiversity in the tropics. I had always thought deer, squirrels, and maybe a lot of bird species were the most prominent animals living in the region and I had never really considered the biodiversity that could be existing in the streams. Learning from this article about the impact of the destruction and contamination of streams made me see how this impact extends far beyond contamination of drinking water sources to the elimination of many unique species that make up the rich biodiversity of the area. Given that human health concerns have not been enough to stop coal mining, I am not at all surprised that coal mining’s effects to biodiversity in the Appalachian mountains have caused little to no action on reducing the use of coal as a source of electricity. What surprised me more is that there are still negative effects to coal mining that are not being widely publicized, at least to the general population. As I read this whole paper, the underlying question that I kept asking myself was whether if everyone read this and knew the full costs of coal mining it would make any difference in people’s perception of using coal as a source of electricity. I am assuming that the average American would not know the full costs of coal and this paper would probably surprise them, but given how we continue to talk about the three I’s affecting politics, while knowledge of the full costs of coal would overcome ignorance, I am doubtful it would be enough to overcome interests and ideology.

Olivia Luzzio

As someone from Kentucky, two statistics in this article were particularly alarming to me. The first was that for every 1-ton reduction of SO2 emissions, the state would save $5,800 in healthcare costs. For a state that consistently ranks in the bottom 20% of U.S. states when it comes to health and well-being, this kind of information should be a primary consideration for state policymakers. Similarly, the authors’ estimate that coal brings in $528 million but costs Kentucky $643 million annually suggests that the industry is clearly more trouble than it is worth. Growing up, I knew that the coal industry in Kentucky was a problem because my cousin was a coal miner and my parents told me he would probably die earlier due to respiratory issues he developed in the mines. I am confident that most other Kentuckians’ knowledge of the issue is about as extensive as mine was – the mindset of “it’s not great, but there’s not a lot we can do about it.” However, when the problem is quantified to the extent it is in this paper, the absurdity of allowing even part of the state economy to continue to rest on coal is much harder to deny.
Policymakers in Kentucky are constantly looking for ways to improve health and education and to bring jobs into the state, especially in the Appalachian region that constitutes eastern Kentucky. Subsidies aiming to reduce poverty, like scholarships and extra funding opportunities for Appalachian-area clinics and hospitals, are countered by continued heavy subsidization of coal. Meanwhile, subsidies for renewable energy are minimal, and those that do exist are challenged by state legislators who believe they are unimportant. To put it simply, a large portion of the state is trapped by the tradition of dependency on coal and an unwillingness to transition to renewable energy production. Until the future is subsidized over the past, Kentucky will continue to lag behind economically and fail to protect its citizens from the economic, health, and social costs of coal.

Max Gebauer

A point of clarification that is central to accounting for the full costs of the coal-use cycle is the use of discount rates for long term gradual impact scenarios. The utility of discount rates is only briefly mentioned in the Limitation section of the paper but I would've liked to see an explicit discussion on the topic especially in the climate impacts section. Considering climate change operates on a time frame of years to centuries, the discount rate chosen when calculating impacts over time becomes incredibly impactful. Minor changes to the value of the rate has serious effects on policy recommendations, especially when the time frame is measured often in decades. To see how powerful a change in this rate can be, one need look no further than the a comparison between Stern and Nordhaus's recommended rates. Although both scholars often recommend either a range of potential rates or a rate that changes over a certain time frame, it can be illustrative to run scenarios on present vs future value and only varying the rate.

There's a general consensus (at least in the philosophical community) that the process of deriving a rate inherently involves taking serious normative positions on topics just as intergeneration justice, international justice, and theories of moral responsibility and fairness. Even when one makes an argument in purely economic terms in support of a certain rate, the argument carries hidden normative assumptions and positions. Ignoring this fact puts one at risk of recommending ethical dubious policy that might only replicate existing structures of exploitation and subordination. Just as present considerations of social cost must have a carefully considering normative framework, so should discussions on future social costs (when calculated in terms of present dollars). The often permanent or quasi-permanent nature of ecological change makes these decisions of central importance.

For a discussion on the Stern-Nordhaus "debate", see Dale Jamieson's "Reason in a Dark Time" 2016

Lucas Roberton

I found the proposal of the carbon capture and storage system interesting, because this hits on the idea of how we quantify the damages done to different environmental amenities and decide what we value more. I felt that the proposal implied that the damages to the atmosphere and CO2 emissions were much more than the damages that additional required coal to be burnt would be, which would include the damages of every aspect of coal production, from exploration to its actual burning. This was interesting to me because the article says, "Coal crushing, processing, and washing releases tons of particulate matter and chemicals on an annual basis and contaminates water, harming community public health and ecological systems" and yet this proposal would involve more of these activities.

Another piece of this article that was shocking to me was the first table that showed all of the damages from different parts of the coal life cycle. The amount of different damages that come from this industry is enormous, and it makes me wonder if people were better educated on this, would the coal industry still be as big as it? I noticed my peers commenting on how ignorance would be eliminated, but interests and ideology are still hard to overcome. I agree with this, as unfortunately I see it as very unlikely that any power company or politician would be all that interested in straying from coal mining or regulating it more if it is such a large part of the economy in certain places, and such a large part of our energy supply today.

Jacob Thompson

The first point from this paper that stuck out to me was the fact that China burns more coal than American, the European Union, and Japan combined. This led me to consider how that has changed with the outbreak of the coronavirus. China’s air pollution has plummeted since the virus was first found, as product has taken a steep drop due to safety measures. Perhaps this could encourage China to want to maintain these low pollution levels once this is over, or at least push them to apply more environmental protection regulations. Another are of the paper that I found intriguing was the section on mountain top removal, as it reminded me of a previous article we read. After reading about the extreme negative effects that mountain top removal has been proven to have on surrounding areas, I was left curious as to why we are no longer researching these aspects. There is clearly a relationship between areas near mountain top removal and higher disease and death rates, so why would anybody want to stop this research? I feel that it should not only be reopened, but made a priority as well in order to be able to support the official end of mountain top removal as a source of coal. Finally, after reading about all of the negative effects that coal has on the economy as well as the environment, I’m curious as to why we still aren’t pushing to switch to more alternative sources of energy. While some of them may be more expensive, I feel that the benefit in the long run will be far greater than if we continued to use coal for the majority of our energy production. Whether it’s continuing to research alternative sources of energy, such as the group at Ohio State that are attempting to find out how to extract coal’s carbon without burning it, or simply making the switch to solar or wind energy, I believe that changes need to be made.

Giddings Harrison

This article made it clear just how widespread the problems are with coal. It impacts a mining community's water, soil, air quality, housing values, workers' health, and economy, just to name a few. In Appalachia, areas with coal mining had an additional 10,923 deaths every year between 1997-2005. Not only has coal mining taken its toll on human lives, Mountain Top Removal has contributed to the loss and degradation of habitats within Appalachia, which is considered to have the second most rich biodiversity in its streams behind the tropics. This paper lays out a clear argument against coal to the point that I am shocked that the U.S. still chooses to use it.

We have discussed the importance of interest and ignorance in relation to action around climate change. The first pro-coal argument that comes mind is jobs. However, this paper cites a clear inverse relationship between coal mining and income and employment. As mining increases in Appalachia, income and educational attainment declines, while poverty and unemployment rise.

Beyond coal's costs to mining communities, coal power is responsible for 72% of CO2 emissions from power generation in 2005. In 2018, this figure had fallen to 65% according to the EIA (natural gas now accounts for 33%). Nonetheless, coal is responsible for much of the U.S. power generation-related emissions of PM, NOx, and SO2, which all increase the likelihood of respiratory illness, cardiac disease, asthma, and mortality. Coal combustion also releases methylmercury, the most toxic form of mercury, which can result in negative neurobehavioral effects on infants and children.

All of this is to say that given the negative effects of coal, it is astounding that almost 40% of the world's electricity production came from coal in 2015, according to the World Bank.

Steven Black

The extremely large size of negative externalities tied to the coal industry and its consumption are very concerning. On the surface, it seems like a very irrational decision for the US to be mining and burning such a high level of coal, especially since roughly 80% of our CO2 emission is the result of coal; however, it makes much more sense in the context of Monday's class. Historically, much of the US energy policy is driven by the fear of running out of a nonrenewable resource and being stuck without a source of energy. Our coal reserves have the potential to last us for roughly 200 years (questionable profitability), which does somewhat rationalize the decisions to stick with an energy source that has so many "bads" associated with it. Additionally, many policy decisions in the latter half of the 20th century were developed with the concern of US dependence on foreign oil in mind. The coal industry is something that is domestic and limits foreign influence over the US economy. While historical context can somewhat rationalize the abundance of coal, much of the context is outdated and it does not take any of the environmental/public health externalities into consideration. The US is no longer at the mercy of OPEC for oil and wind/solar energy production is much more efficient than it was in the past. Even if the we were to switch to oil or natural gas as the primary source of electricity while wind/solar infrastructure is further developed and put into place, we would be much better off than continually relying on coal. A simple solution would be to cut subsidies for the coal industry and even tax it to internalize the negative externalities associated with it. This would force innovation to accelerate and a switch to alternative forms of energy.

Dani Murray

Growing up in the Yampa Valley of Steamboat Springs, CO, I was always playing outside. Often you would hear the sound of a train coming through the valley. As it got closer, it was clear that these trains were carrying coal. At a young age, I knew that coal was important to create electricity. But I never knew the negative impacts coal had on the world. According to this article, 70% of rail traffic in the United States is dedicated to shipping coal. I am sure I am not the only person who grew up seeing coal trains. The article mentions the lost opportunity cost the coal transportation has on the nation. Coal trains are occupying railroads, which could be be used for public transportation. I found this very interesting because this is an issue that Denver/Colorado is trying to address. It is clear that Colorado is a top tourist destination during the winter months. Most tourist who journey to CO to enjoy the fresh snow, fly into DIA and then rent a car to drive along I-70 to get deep in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Most Denver/Colorado Springs/Fort Collins citizens also travel on I-70 to get to their favorite ski resorts. This can cause a great deal of car pollution. In 2010, the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority suggested that Colorado's economy would be able to support and benefit from a a $21 billion high-speed rail system. One of the issues currently is that many of the railroads that are currently already in place are used for transporting coal. I believe that the newest map/pitch from the Federal Railroad Administration will have a positive impact on CO. (See the link below)
The article was very intriguing and pointed out many things that I had not previously realized. I was taken back by the statist that for the year 2030, coal will approximately produce 53% of U.S. power and 85% of the U.S. CO2 emissions from electricity generation. These numbers don't even accurately reflect the total damage of coal. The remainder of the article made it very clear that the coal industry needs to change.


Matt Condon

This paper not only confirms that coal mining, and more specifically, mountain top removal, has negative health effects on people living in coal country, but this article reveals that the issues surrounding coal mining are often more expansive than most think. With issues such as increased mortality and morbidity in coal mining communities, water pollution from coal runoff, and widespread destruction of biodiversity, it seems as if we’ve reached a point where it should not be difficult to see that it would be ideal to mine coal less than we currently do. When reading papers like these, one thought that I cannot get out of the back of my mind is that while there are already many existing sources of alternative energy production, they may not be able to economically aid the areas that are hurt by the decrease of coal mining. In a separate article that I found (link provided below), we can see that while solar energy is a viable option to replace some of the energy production in the absence of coal mining, it will be difficult for former coal miners to reap those benefits, especially for coal miners outside of the United States. Coal miners typically are not willing to move from their homes even if the mines get shut down, and many of the areas where coal mining takes place are not suitable for the production of solar or wind energy. After all, coal mining, despite all of the negative side effects that are caused in its extraction, processing, and transportation, is one of the only jobs where you can make close to $70,000 a year without any kind of education beyond a high school diploma. The coal miners themselves are not completely oblivious to many of the negative health effects of coal mining described in this paper, as they live in these conditions their entire lives, but the pay may be worth the risk in their eyes. Until we can solve the problem of finding a sustainable form of energy production that works well in Appalachian America and pays about as well as coal mining does, there will be massive resistance to any kind of change.



Wow, this paper was extremely impressive and eye opening for me in a number of ways. I really enjoyed the approach this paper took at quantifying the costs of coal. Right off the bat, the statistic that in 2005 coal produced 51% of electricity but 81% of emissions wash shocking. But this figure became even more disgusting when I saw that this didn't include emissions related to mining, MTR, and transportation of coal! This was a common theme as I read this paper; I would be shocked/ impressed by how many externalities the paper was able to quantify, but then quantifying these externalities would just make me aware of how many other externalities had to be ignored because of the difficulty of measuring/ quantifying them. This semester we have learned about so many non market values that weren't even discussed in this paper because of how hard they are to quantify. This doesn't decrease the importance of values like existence value.

My favorite aspect of this paper of how it got down to the knitty-gritty, and put all of the discussions we've had in class to practice. It was perfect to read in context of our class because we discuss non market value/externalities and theories on how we possibly could quantify them, but our class is not focussed on the detail intensive practice of quantifying these negative externalities. However, it was helpful to once again see it in practice, and to read about the scientific and creative processes the authors used to quantify something such as increased risks of lung-cancer in the environments. The paper also really gave me an appreciation for data, and how essential it is to quantify the externalities we discuss in class.

Overall I really enjoyed this paper because it exemplifies the way of thinking that you have helped me cultivate this semester, and how creativity and analysis have to be used in conjunction to value stuff that most people would just write off as impossible. One thing towards the end of the paper that shocked me was the statement that retrofitting old plants is the largest source of CO2 in the United States. On top of this, the paper admits it does not include opportunity costs from not constructing solar and wind infrastructure. I don't know exactly how to say it, but my last two sentences go hand in hand and compound the negatives of coal.

I sent this paper to my father. He is admittedly naive on the subject and therefore does not have a strong opinion, but I feel he generally over-values "job creation" when it comes to climate issues. I am interested to hear his thoughts.


“Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal” thoroughly analyzes the negative externalities associated with the extraction, transport, processing, and combustion of coal. The paper examines the full cost of its life cycle, concluding that these costs immensely outweigh the benefits. I appreciate the extensive use of detail in this paper to show how the costs of this commodity affect every aspect of human and environmental welfare. The long-term effects of coal mining pave a terrifying future both globally and in the Appalachia region. I was particularly concerned in regard to the danger coal creates for Appalachia’s biodiversity, “second only to the tropics.”

Last semester I took Professor Marsh’s introduction to ecology class. We specifically focused on the region’s salamander populations. Before taking the class I had no idea that southern Appalachia is renown for its diverse selection of salamander species. During the class we discussed the ongoing decline of certain salamander species. For instance, the Peaks of Otter salamander and the Big Levels salamander are now restricted to specific mountain tops, found nowhere else in the world. Unfortunately both species are listed as “vulnerable” in regard to their conservation status. Because salamanders rely on cooler temperatures, very particular moisture levels, and a forest’s overall biodiversity, climate change and increasing temperatures pose a huge risk to their existence. Salamanders are also extremely important for the rest of a forest’s ecology. So it was very upsetting when this paper briefly mentioned how coal mining poses as a danger to Appalachia’s salamanders, reminding me of the importance of conservation efforts for these salamander populations.

The effects of coal use for the production of energy on salamander populations serves as an example of the way negative externalities from fossil fuels are not only inevitable, but endless. As the paper suggested, public policy needs to be changed to help eliminate these immense costs to society and the environment. It’s more than devastating to watch our government continue to subsidize an energy source that does significantly more harm than good.


I found this article to be very interesting, as it looks at the harmful impacts of coal through a variety of lenses. I feel like it is very common to discuss and research the harmful effects of coal extraction, or burning, but this study highlights a variety of issues found throughout the "lifecycle" of coal. There are downstream detrimental impacts to the economy, local environment, and human health. It is much more impactful to think about all of these issues together to really understand the scope of the problem. Studies which just highlight the environmental impacts are not as effective at conveying the severity of the issue as this study has done.
One of the biggest roadblocks to cutting back the use of coal and minimizing the negative externalities associated with mining and burning it is the combination of its abundance and its low cost. There is a fear that, because this is a global issue, the United States putting legislation in place to reduce the reliance on coal will negatively harm the economic ability to compete with the rest of the world which is still continuing to use a cheap source of energy. The competitive advantages of coal use have historically outweighed the negatives associated with it. Whatever solution is decided upon must be implemented globally. From our class studies, it makes sense to find some way to incentivize the switch from coal to a cleaner source of energy, but I feel that this legislation would not get passed in the United States for fear of a freeloader problem with the rest of the world.

Lauren Paolano

We briefly discussed the effects on coal mining to the environment, specifically in West Virginia in my environmental studies class with Professor Kahn my freshmen year. I’ve had some previous knowledge of the impacts coal mining had on the miners, their families, and their environment—but I didn’t realize how extreme they really are. Coal Mining produces methane and releases it into the atmosphere, most of which comes from underground mines. Methane is 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. I also learned that coal fires can burn for decades or even centuries. Producing fly ash, chemicals, and smoke with greenhouse gases. These fires are especially problems in China, Russia, Indonesia, Australia, the United States, and South Africa.
Coal mining harms workers as well as local populations to health hazards. If the coal dust or carbon is inhaled is hardens the lungs and can cause black lung disease. On average an estimated 1,200 people in the US still die from black lung disease. Coal creates black lungs (from coal dust), heart failure (carbon monoxide), and respiratory problems (particles, ozone) for coal miners. Coal creates environmental impacts through its use of mining, preparation. combustion, and waste storage. It creates acid water through air pollution which destroys many ecosystems. When the coal factories have a coal fire going it creates over 40 tons of mercury which is very poisonous to to our water system. I was unaware that coal creates many wastes that are hard to dispose of such as coal sludge, heavy metals and coal, and waste coal.

Adam Harter

When researching this blog post, I had an idea: I was going to find out what the total cost of externalities for wind power was and compare it to the numbers from the Epstein paper. In my search, I came across a paper called “Comparative life cycle assessment of 2.0 Mw wind turbines by two Oregon State professors Haapala and Preempreeda. In it, they said there would be looking at the manufacturing, transport, installation, and end of life negative externalities associated with a wind turbine. So I had my plan, I would discover how much damage a 2.0 MW wind turbine makes and then extrapolate that out into the 2.03 billion Kwh that coal produces every year and compare the two.

The problem came with the assessment method used by the paper. They employ a method called the ReCipe, which looks at 18 midpoints such as fossil depletion, natural land transformation, and climate change-human health. But, instead of assigning a monetary estimate of damage or an estimate of total CO2 produced (which then I could use the $10/ton of carbon method), the method assigns an Environmental impact score to the turbines. The environmental impact score of a 2.0 MW turbine averages around 170. I don’t really know what this number means, and looking around the internet there has not been a ReCiPe assessment of coal to compare it to.

While this didn’t turn out how I grandly envisioned, I did learn some things from this paper worth mentioning. This paper did confirm the idea that virtually all the negative externalities associated with turbines come from the manufacturing, transportation, maintenance, and end of life. Interestingly, these externalities are entirely paid back in 3 months. Meaning, all damages from turbines are recovered from using a turbine for energy rather than a carbon-emitting fossil fuel. As far as end of life goes, 90% of all turbine materials are recyclable which creates a cycle of manufacturing to recycling back to manufacturing.

Although, it would be ignorant to say there are no negative externalities of a wind turbine while it is in use. I looked back at the Epstein paper and applied the listed damages of coal that would also be relevant to turbine. In this, I reasoned that turbines could potentially cause economic damages of loss of value for homeowners and loss of mining jobs, human health damage of workplace injuries, and environmental damage of birds and bats getting killed by the blades. In my back of a napkin assessment of these damages, the conclusion is what we all know: coal is way more damaging.


Ashley M Johnston

One thing that I thought was interesting was that in Figure 1, the Public Health costs remain the same for the high, medium, and low cost estimates. Signifying that there are clear measurements to determine the impact that coal has on health. I think that it is staggering that when so much damage is so definitely caused that there are not greater efforts to reduce them. Climate change remains difficult to measure, and I was also wondering - How do you account for the cost of potential for damage such as dangerous impoundments filled with waste that has the potential to destroy land, cause illness and death? I think many industries share the risk of catastrophic events and damage to the environment. How are these risks evaluated and calculated in the cost?

Natalie Burden

The research in “Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal” (Epstein et al. 2011) discusses a lot of the valuations for the external costs of coal use. These price estimates reminded me of a group project we conducted in Professor Greer’s Global Climate Change course. We were tasked with finding the most effective and realistic way to reduce the effects of greenhouse gases on the climate. Each group chose a different method to research. Some options included artificial trees that captured CO2 from the atmosphere, painting cities and streets and roofs white to increase albedo, and injecting some chemical into the atmosphere that brightened clouds to increase albedo. Some of these were problematic because they did nothing to reduce the amount of emissions in the atmosphere and instead merely mitigated a fraction of the effects. Others, such as the artificial trees, would surely be effective if there was unlimited money and places to “plant” the artificial trees, but a big part of the project was to estimate the costs of research and implementation for each of the methods. So, although the artificial trees were among the highest potential effectiveness, they were also among the most expensive. Still, it is unlikely that the price of implementing a method like artificial trees is greater than the excessive social costs of CO2 emissions. Thinking about it like this reminds me of an earlier discussion we’ve had, about how willingness to pay is less than willingness to accept the costs of something. Based on the costs of coal, as Epstein et al. calculated, it seems to be a similar situation, with people willing to accept the costs of coal rather than paying to limit the social costs of coal, however the method.

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