Democratic Congressmen Henry Waxman (CA) and Bobby Rush (IL) today called on Republican committee chairs to hold hearings on the full economic costs of coal-fired power plants. The key word here is, of course, full.
Big Coal and its supporters in Congress often use the club of “expensive energy” to beat up on renewable sources such as solar power and wind. But, as Waxman and Rush state in their request letter to Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), a new study “finds that the economic costs of air pollution from coal-fired … power plants outweigh the economic value these sources add to the economy.” The letter was also addressed to the chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power, Ed Whitfield (R-KY).
The study, Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy, determined that economic damages caused by coal-fired power plants outweighed benefits by up to 5.6 times.
Coal-fired electrical generation only seems cheap because most of the costs don’t appear on the power bill. Instead, the full cost of coal is paid by ordinary Americans in increased health care and shortened life spans, by businesses in lost work days due to respiratory and heart-related illnesses, and by the agriculture industry in lower crop yields due to climate change.
The new study appears in the latest issue of the American Economic Review, and was co-authored by economists at Middlebury College and Yale University.
For more on the healthcare costs of coal-fired power plants, see the excellent 2010 study, The Toll From Coal, published by the Clean Air Task Force.