We all knew coal is harmful — we figured people just ignored that harm because of their profit margins. But according to the prestigious American Economic Review, harm from coal-fired electrical plants costs more than twice as much as the electricity they generate. All told, coal plants cause $53 billion in damage every year. And none of that even takes climate impacts into account.

Health effects from coal-fired plants — increased deaths from sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates — comprise more than a quarter of pollution-related damages from U.S. industry. That's a conservative estimate, done by centrist economists, that leaves out the health effects of climate change altogether. But probably more important is the conclusion that coal plants are a cost-benefit nightmare. 

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations TRIPLED!

The findings show that, contrary to current political mythology, coal is underregulated. On average, the harm produced by burning the coal is over twice as high as the market price of the electricity. In other words, some of the electricity production would flunk a cost-benefit analysis. 

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.