Conventional energy industries cost the United States US$131 billion in damage in 2011, mostly due to the health impacts of air pollution, according to a report in the journal Energy Policy.
“Using models, researchers can place a monetary value on the health effects caused by air pollution and come up with a ‘social cost’ of the offending emissions—in other words, the monetary damages associated with emitting an additional ton (or other unit) of a given type of pollutant,” the Washington Post explains. “This social cost can then be used to calculate the total monetary damages produced by a certain amount of emissions in a given time period.”
The paper sought to update a 2010 study by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences by focusing on four of the most important aspects of fossil energy production: electric power generation, oil and gas extraction, coal mining, and oil refining. It found the NAS had underestimated the health effects of air pollution resulting from fossil production.
And yet, the social cost was down from an even more staggering total of US$175 billion in 2002, indicating that regulatory changes in the U.S. had a positive impact. “In this case, these sorts of retrospective looks are showing that some interventions really are having their intended effect,” said Jason Hill of the University of Minnesota, an associate professor of bioproducts and biosystems engineering who was not involved with the new paper.