Coal & Oil - Biggest Health Culprits, Says National Academies

The National Academy of Science has released a report showing that health effects from burning fossil fuels cost the economy about $120 billion a year. Global warming was not included due to uncertainty, so it's focused mostly on air pollution.

The report, ordered by Congress, focuses almost exclusively on coal and oil, with the former accounting for $62 billion in 'hidden costs' per year. Electricity generation, heating and driving are the main activities studied. Heavy-duty trucks were included but trains, ships, and planes were not.

"The largest portion of this is excess mortality - increased human deaths as a result of criteria air pollutants emitted by power plants and vehicles," said Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who led the study committee.

Coal burning was the biggest single source of such external costs . The damages averaged 3.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with 0.16 cents for (natural) gas. But the variation among coal plants was enormous. The worst plants, generally the oldest and burning coal with the highest sulfur content, were 3.6 times worse than the average, with a cost of nearly 12 cents per kilowatt-hour (which is more than the average retail price of that amount of electricity)."

From National Academies press release:
"The report assesses what economists call external effects caused by various energy sources over their entire life cycle -- for example, not only the pollution generated when gasoline is used to run a car but also the pollution created by extracting and refining oil and transporting fuel to gas stations."

Damages From Motor Vehicles and Fuels

"Transportation, which today relies almost exclusively on oil, accounts for nearly 30 percent of U.S. energy demand. In 2005 motor vehicles produced $56 billion in health and other nonclimate-related damages, says the report. The committee evaluated damages for a variety of types of vehicles and fuels over their full life cycles, from extracting and transporting the fuel to manufacturing and operating the vehicle. In most cases, operating the vehicle accounted for less than one-third of the quantifiable nonclimate damages, the report found."

Thanks to Gladwyn d'Souza

Full Story: Fossil Fuels’ Hidden Cost Is in Billions, Study Says

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