From the department of ‘Wow!’: Externalities of coal storage

Handle with Care: The Local Air Pollution Costs of Coal Storage. by Akshaya Jha, Nicholas Z. Muller – #23417 (EEE PE)


Burning coal is known to have environmental costs; this paper quantities the local environmental costs of transporting and storing coal at U.S. power plants for the sample period 2002-2012. We first demonstrate that a 10% increase in coal stockpiles (number of deliveries) results in a 0.07% (0.16%) increase in the average concentration of fine particulates (PM2.5) for locations up to 25 miles away from, and downwind from, plants. We next assess the impacts of PM2.5 on average adult and infant mortality rates using coal stockpiles and deliveries as instruments for PM2.5. Our findings within this instrumental variables framework indicate that a 10% increase in PM2.5 leads to a 1.1% (6.6%) increase in average adult (infant) mortality rates; these causal estimates are similar in magnitude to the epidemiological estimates used by the USEPA in their regulatory impact analyses. Our estimated increase in mortality rates implies local environmental costs of $183 ($203) per ton of coal stockpiled (delivered); to put this in perspective, the average power plant paid roughly $48 per ton for coal during our sample period. These sizable but highly localized environmental costs of coal transportation and storage disproportionately impact the economically disadvantaged communities living near coal-fired power plants.

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9 Responses to From the department of ‘Wow!’: Externalities of coal storage

  1. Graham Young says:

    Seriously? And what about the increase in life expectancy due to the benefits that plentiful power, significantly generated from coal, has brought?

    • Moz of Yarramulla says:

      I’d love to see a reference showing the difference in life extension between coal and other energy sources. Otherwise you’ve committed a non sequitur, where the benefit comes from the power and the cost discussed in the link above partly offsets the benefit.

  2. Nicholas Gruen says:

    I didn’t see any claims about that in the paper.

    Not sure of your point – or to be more specific, I think I do know your point, (coal is good for humanity and should be honoured by being brought into the parliamentary chamber in largish lumps) but I fail to see its relevance. :)

  3. derrida derider says:

    As I love my environment, and therefore loath all things coalish, I would prefer to believe these results. But I don’t, because I think they are too bad to be true.

    If the effects were that huge the epidemiologists would have been all over this many decades ago. The death clusters near coal transport railway lines would stick out so far that they would be unmistakably clear with even casual observation, let alone proper study.

    I await replication. I don’t think we’ll get it.

    • Nice point, and sounds like a good bet.

    • pablo says:

      Nevertheless dd, this study is a further ‘red flag’ to anyone living close to the Hunter Valley coal haulage lines and the Kooragang Island stockpiles for shipment. Residents have long argued for rail wagon covers which would seem a useful and logical step but to no avail. This is particularly concerning with the 2.5 micron particle risk outlined.

      • derrida derider says:

        If you know some of those residents, pablo, point this out to them and get them to wave it under some young politicians’ nose – it should be a great crusading issue for one on the make (even though, as I said, I think the the paper probably finds coal dust to be even more deadly than it actually is).

        The trouble is, which party? Labor is utterly uninterested in health and environment issues, the coalition couldn’t care less about anyone living in such downmarket places (if the coal trains passed through a marginal electorate it would be a different story) and the NSW Greens will be more interested in using it to bash Evil Capitalists, displaying their superior moral virtue while hastening the Advent of Socialism, than in actually pressuring said capitalists to cover those wagons.

        • A railway enthusiast tells me that there are emulsion sprays in use in other places, that can cut dust by around 90% and are also more cost effective than ‘tarps’ and mechanical covers

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