The Myth That Coal Is Cheap


Its health and other societal costs are staggering. Phasing out coal-fired power plants would be good for the country
Gary Cohen, President and Co-founder
Health Care Without Harm
June 5, 2015
In May, Republican U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia introduced legislation to roll back President Obama's Clean Power Plan. Proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2014, the plan would require states to reduce air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions and would likely speed the retirement of older, inefficient coal-fired power plants.
Capito, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other lawmakers from coal country view the Clean Power Plan as an existential threat to their states' economies. They contend that phasing out coal would remove a cheap source of energy, leading to higher costs for utility ratepayers.
Here's the problem with that argument: Coal is only cheap if you choose to ignore its staggering costs to human health and the environment.
Just last month, a report from the International Monetary Fund (hardly a radical outfit) found that the environmental, health and other costs of burning fossil fuels reach $5.3 trillion a year -- $10 million every minute. Coal -- the dirtiest fuel in terms of air pollution and climate-warming carbon emissions -- accounts for just over half that total. By shouldering these costs, we are, in effect, granting a massive public subsidy to coal and other fossil-fuel companies.