The Appalachian region has been supplying American with cheap energy for generations, a duty it has performed with a sense of pride and patriotism. But while electricity from the region’s coal has been cheap for the rest of us, the price has been extraordinarily high for the people of the mountains.
That price took on a new dimension this week in a peer-reviewed study from the Health Policy Institute at West Virginia University. Researcher Michael Hendryx reports that coal mining costs the region five times more in early deaths than it provides in economic benefits.
Hendryx’s sobering calculation is that the coal industry provides about $8 billion annually in jobs, taxes and other economic benefits -- but premature deaths attributed to coal mining and its impacts, including local air and water pollution, cost the region $42 billion.
Hendryx qualifies this estimate, saying it’s impossible to calculate these numbers with absolute certainty. But even a cursory look at how coal is extracted in Appalachia – largely now through the incredibly destructive practice of mountain top removal – leads reasonable people to conclude that Hendryx is on the right track.
I’ll write a great deal about the ongoing Appalachian tragedy in the future, but in this post I’ll focus on the ecology of decision-making in Washington D.C. that allows national energy policy to be so destructive, even deadly.
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