With gas prices hitting $4 a gallon in recent years, Americans are realizing that our once ‘affordable’ energy sources aren’t as affordable as industry would have us believe. And we often aren’t aware as consumers the real price we are paying for polluting energy.
According to the National Academy of Sciences report, a conservative estimate of damages from fossil fuel use in the United States—petroleum, natural gas and coal—was approximately $120 billion in 2005. Most of this estimate comes from the cost due to health damage from air pollution associated with electricity generation and vehicles.
Other damages included damage of major air pollutants—sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, and particulate matter—on grain crops and timber yields, buildings, and recreation. And that $120 billion estimate doesn’t include damages from climate change, harm to ecosystems, effects of some air pollutants such as mercury, or risks to national security.
None of these costs are reflected in energy prices, but we all pay for this damage in other sectors: food, construction, health care, national defense. Monetary costs are important, but there also are the intangible human cost of suffering from preventable illness and premature death.
While natural gas may be cleaner than coal or oil, the recent natural gas explosions in San Bruno, CA remind us that California’s reliance on natural gas for heating and electricity is far from risk-free. To protect our communities, our health and our economy, it’s critical we work now to create cleaner, safer energy sources for the future.