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Smoke billows from the chimneys of the Belchatow Power Station, Europe Smoke billows from the chimneys of the Belchatow Power Station, Europe's largest coal-fired power plant, in Belchatow Oct. 31, 2013. (REUTERS/Kacper Pempel)  

Report: The social benefits of fossil fuels outweigh the costs 50 to 1

Burning off carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to provide cheap electricity may have affected the climate, but the benefits of a carbonized economy far outweigh the costs, according to a new study.

The pro-coal American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) released a study showing that the benefits of carbonized fuel, like coal, to society are 50 to 500 times greater than the costs. Over the past two-and-a-half centuries increased fossil fuel energy production has helped more than double global life expectancy and increase global incomes 11-fold.

The study was released as a rebuttal to the Obama administration’s social cost of carbon estimate, which was quietly updated last year. The Federal Interagency Working Group (IWG) said the social cost of carbon (SCC) about $36 per ton.

Fossil fuels are the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., with coal-fired power plants being a major contributor. The $36 per ton SCC estimate will be used by regulatory agencies to justify more costly regulations on the coal industry, according to ACCCE.

“Even the most conservative estimates peg the social benefit of carbon-based fuels as 50 times greater than its supposed social cost,” said Dr. Roger Bezdek, the study’s lead author. “And the benefits are actual fact; founded on more than two centuries of empirical data, not theoretical summaries based on questionable assumptions, dubious forecasts, and flawed models.”

The Obama administration is making a concerted effort to steer the U.S. away from coal power since it emits much more carbon than other fuel sources, like natural gas or renewables. The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to ban the construction of new coal-fired power plants unless they use costly, unproven emissions control technology. (RELATED: UN: Global prosperity is causing global warming)

“If this Administration attempts to calculate the future costs of carbon, it’s imperative that policymakers also consider the actual and potential benefits of our carbon-based economy,” said ACCCE president Mike Duncan. “Fossil-based energy has powered three industrial revolutions, including today’s ‎technology revolution. It has increased life expectancy, improved the quality of life, supported the cause of liberty, and brought hope to every civilization that has used it.”

Coal is the leading source of electricity in the world and international efforts to ban coal in the name of fighting global warming would harms the world’s poor. Coal power, like other fossil fuels, has given billions of people cheap electricity which allow factories to produce lots of goods, hospitals to keep the lights on and for people to heat their homes in the winter. As economies grow they tend to use more energy, meaning that government efforts to supplant coal and other fossil fuels with renewable energy could harm economic growth.

Environmentalists, however, see coal power as a major driver of global warming. U.S. activists argue that coal power is on the wane and the government should use this opportunity to make sure coal plants are taken offline.

“Coal-fired generation is getting increasingly expensive compared with cleaner power sources,” said Jeff Deyette, assistant director of energy research at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “This shift in economics is a historic opportunity to modernize our electric sector and gain the economic, health and climate benefits that come with it.”

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