June 24, 2009

Proven: Coal's costs exceed its benefits

Coal's costs are higher than its benefits. The article below has the numbers to prove it. The costs are almost 7 times more than its benefits. Although the article addresses the Appalachian region, particularly West Virginia, the study is similarly applicable to South Carolina. Santee Cooper needs to understand the clear indication that the study finds: Coal is not sustainable and is detrimental to our health.

Following this post, there will be another post, "Reassure 'em while they're young," regarding the "Reassuring Lie" taught to elementary schools in West Virginia. "Reassure 'em while they're young" conveys the distance the coal industry goes to promote itself despite the evidence of coal's high costs. St. Francis Elementary received 1 hour presentations on coal. The third grade class essentially observed a history lesson. Coal is history. Ironically, when coal advocates are pinned to the numbers of coal's costs, most argue for coal's long history, on the lines of: "Coal has been with us over the past century and we cannot move on without it. It's traditional, providing at least 50% of our energy, we need it." Shooting back, reality questions: "We need bronchitis, mercury, soot, smog, asthma, and cancer?"

After reading the present post, and going on to read "Reassure 'em while they're young," keep in mind the numbers and statements made by WVU researcher Michael Hendryx.

The Charleston Gazette
Coal's costs outweigh benefits, WVU study finds
Ken Ward Jr.
June 20, 2009

Coal mining costs Appalachians five times more in early deaths as the industry provides to the region in jobs, taxes and other economic benefits, according to a groundbreaking new study co-authored by a West Virginia University researcher.

"Coal-mining economies are not strong economies," Hendryx said in an interview last week.Writing with co-author Melissa Ahern of Washington State University, Hendryx reports that the coal industry generates a little more than $8 billion a year in economic benefits for the Appalachian region.

But, Hendryx and Ahern put the value of premature deaths attributable to the mining industry across the Appalachian coalfields at -- by their most conservative estimate -- $42 billion."The human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighs its economic benefits," they wrote.

Hendryx is the research director at WVU's Institute for Health Policy Research and is an associate professor in the university's Department of Community Medicine.

Previous papers, also published in peer-reviewed journals, found that residents of coal-producing counties are more likely to suffer from chronic heart, lung and kidney diseases and more likely to be hospitalized for certain health problems that are connected to coal pollution.

Hendryx has also reported that coal county residents are more likely to contract lung cancer and generally suffer from excess numbers of premature deaths.

In each of his studies, Hendryx has tried to weed out other possible factors -- such as smoking and diet -- to pinpoint coal's possible role in these public health problems.The new study builds on Hendryx's previous work that found excess premature deaths in coal counties compared to other counties in Appalachia.

That work did not definitively blame the coal industry for the excess deaths, but said possible explanations included exposure to coal byproducts such as slurry leaching into water supplies or air pollution effects from mining and coal processing. Further research is needed in those areas, Hendryx has said.

"The number of coal miners in Appalachia declined from 122,102 to 53,509 between 1985 and 2005," the paper said.

"This decline corresponded to increases in mechanized mining practices and the growth of surface mining, which requires fewer employees than underground mining per ton mined."After these calculations, Hendryx and Ahern came up with a final annual regional economic gain of $8.1 billion.

Next, Hendryx and Ahern calculated a number of excess age-adjusted deaths in coal-mining areas, compared to non-coal areas of the region. The number varied from 3,975 to 10,923, depending on the years studied and comparison group.

Then, they plugged in what they described as a low estimate of the value of life -- about $3.8 million -- and, using the highest number of excess deaths, got a figure for the cost of coal-related excess deaths of $41.8 billion a year.

"Natural resources such as forests and streams have substantial economic value when they are left intact, and mining is highly destructive of these resources," the study says. "

For example, Appalachian coal mining permanently buried 724 stream miles between 1985 and 2001 through mountaintop removal mining and subsequent valley fills, and will ultimately impact more than 1.4 million acres.

"Coal generates inexpensive electricity, but not as inexpensive as the price signals indicate because those prices do not include the costs to human health and productivity, and the costs of natural resource destruction."

"Potential alternative employment opportunities include development of renewable energy from wind, solar, bio fuels, geothermal, or hydro power sources; sustainable timber; small-scale agriculture; outdoor or culturally oriented tourism; technology; and ecosystem restoration," the study says.

"The need to develop alternative economies becomes even more important when we realize that coal reserves throughout most of Appalachia are projected to peak and then enter permanent decline in about 20 years.

To read the full article, click here

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