May 23, 2019 | 66° F

BOZTEPE: Cost of coal is not as cheap as we are told

Opinion Column: Kaanotations


Coal is apparently the nonrenewable resource that is the future of our energy, as stated by the current presidential administration —  strictly “clean” coal, whatever that is supposed to be, seeing as it can never be clean. In response to that ill-formed decision with no true explanation, I would like to write about the additional costs of coal that are not visible at first glance, as well as show the harmful effects of a resource that we should be leaning off of as a nation. 

The coal industry does not abide to full-cost pricing. Full-cost pricing is something that “would reduce resource waste, pollution and environmental degradation and improve human health by encouraging producers to invent more resource-efficient and less-polluting methods of production" according to the 16th edition of "Living in the Environment: Concepts, Connections, and Solutions" by G. Tyler Miller, Jr. and Scott E. Spoolman. It would also inform consumers about the environmental and health effects of the goods and services they buy. 

The coal industry does not abide by full-cost pricing and yet it statistically holds approximately 23 percent of the world’s energy needs. The effects of this include harm on human health and our atmosphere, and it emits more carbon per unit than oil and 80 percent more than natural gas. “It accounts for 43 percent of global emissions (2.7 billion tons of it every year),” according to

According to a study by Harvard, the total cost of coal throughout its entire life cycle is approximately $500 billion a year within the United States. To break this down further and show why it does not follow the full-cost pricing, up to $74 billion is needed a year due to healthcare costs, deaths and injuries that occur while mining and transporting coal, and the emissions generated during its combustion. 

The emissions of pollutants cost another $187.5 billion a year, due to the illnesses that arise from coal, $29.3 billion is added to the list because of the impact of mercury, $205 billion in costs occur due to land use and energy consumption and $18 billion is needed for the costs of spillage of toxic waste and the clean-up process.

The public is unfairly paying for the negative impacts of coal use. These hidden costs triple the price of coal consumption in relation to alternatives such as shifting toward wind, solar and other renewable and environmentally safe alternatives. Citizens are rarely informed about these additional costs that arise due to the negatives that come with using coal, and thus, coal is often seen as a very cheap source of energy, when it costs us obscure amounts of money, our health and our atmosphere. 

The answer is clear: We must phase out coal and move to clean energy, one that can lead to healthier cities, little to no amounts of greenhouse emissions and more jobs. 

We discussed the costs before, but I want to now clarify  why people assume coal is so cheap, when it is the opposite. For this, we must consider two phrases. Firstly, we must consider internal costs, or the ones that are easily visible. They are things such as the cost of the energy needed, labor, equipment and other materials. Secondly, we must consider external costs, or things that are not included in what the specific industry bases its price on. Some of which include the environmental degradation caused by emissions, waste from production and pollutants. 

The list also includes the cost of health problems that occur due to the harmful materials and the cost of increasing unemployment due to the influx of automation. In short, although external costs are not included in the price of the product, they still must be paid. But, it ends up that we are the ones who have to pay it via taxes, medical payments, insurance payments and diminished environmental quality, causing things such as food prices to rise. 

Consumers would prefer to buy cheaper goods, so clean and sustainable products and industries seem to be at a price disadvantage in comparison to the coal industry because it does not disclose its external costs and in turn looks cheaper. 

One way to make the industry include external costs is for the government to create a bill that adds a tax to those products created by said industry that has external costs to society. Former President Barack Obama wanted to create carbon taxes, which would focus on vehicle and petrol use. 

By taxing these external costs of coal, it can now be held accountable for its true cost and help society see that the renewable resources, while their internal costs might be higher than coal's, it is much cheaper overall. Climate change is occurring at an alarming rate so the shift to renewable resources and the phasing-out of harmful nonrenewable resources is our only option to protect our oceans, land, air quality and ourselves. 

Kaan Jon Boztepe is a School of Arts and Sciences junior double majoring in philosophy and history. His column, "Kaanotations," runs on alternate Tuesdays.  


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Kaan Jon Boztepe

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