Sunday, July 01, 2012

Big Coal's not pulling its weight

The great failure of environmentalism was fighting in warm-and-fuzzy terms of Mother Earth and cuddly giant fauna instead of cold dollars.  Making companies incorporate real pollution and other damage into the price of their products - $50 plastic bags, anyone? - would have accomplished a lot more a lot faster than the endangered species act.

Capitalism's a Bitch, and we've been protecting Big Coal from her for too long

Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars:
Coal is also a very prickly political and economic issue. But if we really do want to stop massive flooding, fires and storms, we're going to have to do something about it. From Grist's David Roberts:
Yesterday, Jessnoted a new paper in the American Economic Review: “Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy.” Brad Johnson has a longer summary here. I want to emphasize the paper’s conclusions and make a few related points. But mostly I want to beg everyone:spread this around. Coal’s net economic effects on the U.S. are poorly understood, to say the least, and this paper’s findings are stunning.

Once you strip away the econ jargon, the paper finds that, on the margin, electricity from coal imposes more damages on the U.S. economy than the electricity is worth. That’s right: The next coal-fired power plant is a net value-subtraction. A parasite, you might say, that will enrich a few executives and shareholders at the public’s expense.

If you’re of a wonky bent, it’s worth digging in. The authors try to establish a framework for integrating air-pollution costs into national accounts — that is, a systematic way of accounting for those “externalities” you’re always hearing about — and come up with something called gross external damages (GED). They calculate GED for several common industries and find that not only coal power, but “solid waste combustion, sewage treatment, stone quarrying, [and] marinas” have air-pollution externalities that exceed their total value added.

But coal power is a parasite in a class by itself, with a GED equal to the combined totals of its three closest competitors. In fact, coal plants “are responsible for more than one-fourth of GED from the entire U.S. economy” — roughly $53 billion in damages a year.

You want to kill fossil fuels? Stop crying over pictures of oil-slicked pelicans and children bathing in acid mine runoff. Start delivering bills. $53 billion a year might put a dent in even Big Coal.

1 comment:

Tom Hilton said...

Damn. That's brutal.

But of course any effort to factor in the true costs of any fossil fuel would be a socialist plot to destroy the free market...