The push to eliminate coal and other fossil fuels from the U.S. energy mix will have a significant financial impact on all Americans, but the lowest income Americans will be impacted the most. Coal has been a source of cheap and reliable energy for years; however, many politicians have plans to eliminate coal. Hillary Clinton states (Clinton, 2015) that, if elected, on Day 1 of her presidency she will establish two national goals:
- Install 500 million solar panels across the US by the end of 2020
- Install enough renewables to power every home in the US by 2027
But, Ms. Clinton’s plan does not mention any additional costs to the American people, or what specific environmental benefits will be associated with those goals. As Thomas Jefferson said, “An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic” (Jefferson, 1820). Voters cannot make a well-informed decision unless a cost-benefit analysis is clearly communicated.
From a cost perspective, do you feel the current condition of your environment is so bad that you would make significant financial sacrifices to improve it? Would your answer change if it meant sacrificing food and heat in the winter? What if the projected improvement was only one one-hundredth of a degree Celsius as stated by the former Assistant Secretary of Energy Charles McConnell and affirmed by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy when testifying before Congress (McCarthy)?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 45.3 million Americans (including over 16 million children) lived in poverty in 2013 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). One of those Americans is Bessie Meade. Bessie was born in 1945 and raised her two girls in Eastern Kentucky. She was widowed in 1997 when her husband died of a sudden heart attack. Bessie has worked hard and been thrifty her entire life. As a result, she is debt free. But at the age of 70, the only income she has is her Social Security check of $753/month. Bessie’s electric bill is her largest expense (averaged $203/month in 2014) in part because the modular home that she and her husband purchased new in the mid 1970’s is not energy efficient and she does not have the money to make it efficient. After all her monthly expenses, Bessie has $157/month for food. She is able to get by each month with the help of $30/month in Food Stamps. When asked what she would do if her electric bill rose 40 percent to 50 percent – the expected increase needed to convert conventional coal to solar PV (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015) – Bessie stated bluntly, “People around here would have to choose to either freeze or starve to death, one or the other.”
The small environmental benefit associated with the elimination of coal and other fossil fuels from the U.S. energy mix is insignificant when compared to the financial and social impacts on all Americans, especially the lowest income Americans who will be hardest hit by rapid price increases.
Coal is the answer to developing countries combating energy poverty. #Energy4everyone #Coal
The cost of reliable electricity in the U.S. without coal-fueled generation is significant for over 45 million Americans living below the poverty line. The cost without coal means that a large group of people in the U.S. will be faced with choosing between heating their homes, and putting food on their tables.