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Don't Get Duped Like Obama: Here're the Top 5 Myths About Coal

The coal industry has spent millions trying to fool the American public, Congress and the president. Here's how to beat the hype.

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Last year, a study by Dr. Michael Hendryx of West Virginia University found that when there is an increase in coal production in an area, there is also an increase in chronic illnesses. Here are some of the more shocking findings of the study, which that found those in coal production areas:

  • have a 70 percent increased risk for developing kidney disease;
  • have a 64 percent increased risk for developing chronic lung diseases such as emphysema;
  • are 30 percent more likely to report high blood pressure (hypertension).

There is also a risk to those who live near where coal is burned. In its report, "Dirty Air, Dirty Power: Mortality and Health Damage Due to Air Pollution from Power Plants," the Clean Air Task Force revealed that:

  • Fine-particulate matter pollution from U.S. power plants leads to more than 24,000 deaths each year.
  • The elderly, children and those with respiratory disease are most severely affected by fine particle-pollution from power plants.
  • People who live in metropolitan areas near coal-fired plants feel their impacts most acutely -- their attributable death rates are much higher than areas with few or no coal-fired plants.

So before President Obama and legislators think of giving more taxpayer money to the coal industry, they need to consider the larger implications for human health and safety.

3. It's Cheap

In the last century, we seem to have goofed on our math by forgetting to add in some important externalities when it comes to the environment and energy. So anyone who says that coal is cheap, has obviously failed to include its impact on communities and ecosystems.

The only way cheap is associated with coal is when it comes to property values. In Appalachia, where MTR mining uses 3 million pounds of explosives a day to blow the tops off peaks, it has made nearby people's homes and land worth next to nothing.

Constant dynamite blasting has cracked foundations and shaken peoples nerves. And after the blasting, the rock is dumped into valleys, creating "fills" and burying streams. Heavy rains have caused these fills to collapse, making people who live downhill fearful of massive floods. And it makes the resale of their homes virtually impossible.

There are also slurry impoundments, or massive dams that are created to hold the toxic waste after coal is cleaned, which leak into groundwater and pose enormous hazards when they fail. Right now, one West Virginia community is pleading for the removal of a sludge dam that sits just hundreds of yards from an elementary school.

Of course, as TVA now knows, the cost of cleaning up a toxic coal spill will not be cheap. As the Nashville Scene reported, the Harriman spill in December, "will cost untold millions -- one expert put it at no less than $100 million -- to clean this mess up, to take care of displaced families, not to mention the lawsuits already in the clerk's office and the many that are sure to follow."

While the costs of one spill can be potentially calculated, there's no way to figure out the untold billions of dollars worth of damage that burning coal has caused to our air and water.

A report by Greenpeace and the Dutch institute CE Delft found that when it comes to coal:

The true costs that have been left out of the cheap prices. It estimates -- conservatively -- that the damage caused by coal's mining accidents, its global carbon dioxide emissions, and the illnesses it causes adds $451 billion in annual costs to the simple buying price.

 
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