Removing coal from America’s energy mix as a result of environmental regulations would directly result in 14,000 to 25,000 premature adult deaths per year, according to a report released in February. Mortality Reductions from the Use of Low- Cost Coal-Fueled Power: An Analytical Framework is a peer-reviewed study co-authored by energy consultant Daniel Klein and Ralph Keeney of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. The study was sponsored by The Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED), the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), the Association of American Railroads, Edison Electric Institute, the National Mining Association, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
The research examines, for the first time, the human mortality impacts associated with overly stringent regulations that would displace coal as the primary fuel used for electricity generation in the U.S. Klein and Keeney built upon a decade or more of established research that shows that increased regulation does not always mean reduced risk. The Klein-Keeney report identifies trade-offs American households will face as a result of increased regulation of the coal-based electricity sector. The analysis shows that these trade-offs can have a negative effect on adult mortality.
Child deaths due to reduced income, as well as deaths resulting from increased unemployment, were not quantified in this study. However, the authors’ extrapolations from other studies suggest that these increased incidences of mortality could be substantial.
The Klein-Keeney findings also show that these cases of increased mortality are not spread evenly across the population. The highest levels of increased mortality are likely to be concentrated in lower-income brackets. Assuming that costs are distributed proportionally to electricity consumption, households with incomes of less than $15,000 per year (about 16.5 percent of American households) would incur about 43 percent of the deaths identified in the study. In contrast, those households with incomes over $50,000 per year (about 41 percent of American households) would incur only about eight percent of the premature deaths. These disproportionate effects would disadvantage certain minority communities.
“Minorities cannot afford to ignore energy policy issues,” says Harry C. Alford, NBCC president/CEO. “Minority households and small business owners already pay higher per capita energy costs; so when costs go up, minorities are more likely to be hurt the hardest. Raising awareness both within our communities and among policy makers is something we must do if we are to continue our focus on increasing empowerment opportunities.”
“Policy makers can’t be expected to develop regulations that protect the public if they don’t have balanced and complete information,” said Stephen L. Miller, president of CEED. “Up until now, the regulatory debate has only focused on one side of the benefits curve, but as this study clearly shows, that is only part of the picture.”