The Cost Of The Full Life Cycle Of Coal


“Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal”

P. Epstein, J. Buonocore, K. Eckerle, M. Hendryx, B. M. Stout III, R. Heinberg, R. W. Clapp, B. May, N. L. Reinhart, M. M. Ahern, S. K. Doshi, and L. Glustrom.

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2011


Keywords:  Coal mining, environmental impacts, human health, carbon capture, climate change

Purpose:  Thus study investigates the cost of the full life cycle of coal - extraction, transport, processing, and combustion – to the U.S. public.

Important Findings:  This study found that the environmental damage caused by all the aspects of coal’s life cycle, including emissions and impact on climate change, cost the American public roughly $500 billion annually and increased the true cost of coal by up to $0.17/kWh. The study included the more than 100,000 miners killed since 1900 and the federal funding needed to cover medical costs associated with black lung disease, which has claimed more than 200,000 lives. 

Significant Quotes:  “We estimate that the life cycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated are costing the U.S. public a third to over one-half of a trillion dollars annually. Many of these so-called externalities are, moreover, cumulative. Accounting for the damages conservatively doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh generated, making wind, solar, and other forms of non-fossil fuel power generation, along with investments in efficiency and electricity conservation methods, economically competitive.”

“…these [externalities] are often not taken into account in decision making and when they are not accounted for, they can distort the decision-making process and reduce the welfare of society.”


1. Comprehensive comparative analyses of life cycle costs of all electricity generation technologies and practices are needed to guide the development of future energy policies.

2. Begin phasing out coal and phasing in cleanly powered smart grids, using place-appropriatealternative energy sources.

3. A healthy energy future can include electric vehicles, plugged into cleanly powered smart grids; and healthy cities initiatives, including green buildings, roof-top gardens, publictransport, and smart growth.

4. Alternative industrial and farming policies are needed for coal-field regions, to support themanufacture and installation of solar, wind, small-scale hydro, and smart grid technologies. Rural electric co-ops can help in meeting consumer demands.

5. We must end MTR mining, reclaim all MTR sites and abandoned mine lands, and ensure that local water sources are safe for consumption.

6. Funds are needed for clean enterprises, reclamation, and water treatment.

7. Fund-generating methods include: a. maintaining revenues from the workers’ compensation coal tax; b. increasing coal severance tax rates; c. increasing fees on coal haul trucks and trains; d. reforming the structure of credits and taxes to remove misaligned incentives; e. reforming federal and state subsidies to incentivize clean technology infrastructure.

8. To transform our energy infrastructure, we must realign federal and state rules, regulations,and rewards to stimulate manufacturing of and markets for clean and efficient energy systems. Such a transformation would be beneficial for our health, for the environment, for sustained economic health, and would contribute to stabilizing the global climate.


Epstein, P., J. Buonocore, K. Eckerle, M. Hendryx, B. M. Stout III, R. Heinberg, R. W. Clapp, B. May, N. L. Reinhart, M. M. Ahern, S. K. Doshi, and L. Glustrom. (2011) "Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1219: 73-98.