Handle with Care: The Local Air Pollution Costs of Coal Storage.

Akshaya Jha, Nicholas Z. Muller

NBER Working Paper No. 23417
Issued in May 2017
NBER Program(s):Environment and Energy Economics, Public Economics

Burning coal is known to have environmental costs; this paper quantities the local environmental costs of transporting and storing coal at U.S. power plants for the sample period 2002-2012. We first demonstrate that a 10% increase in coal stockpiles (number of deliveries) results in a 0.07% (0.16%) increase in the average concentration of fine particulates (PM2.5) for locations up to 25 miles away from, and downwind from, plants. We next assess the impacts of PM2.5 on average adult and infant mortality rates using coal stockpiles and deliveries as instruments for PM2.5. Our findings within this instrumental variables framework indicate that a 10% increase in PM2.5 leads to a 1.1% (6.6%) increase in average adult (infant) mortality rates; these causal estimates are similar in magnitude to the epidemiological estimates used by the USEPA in their regulatory impact analyses. Our estimated increase in mortality rates implies local environmental costs of $183 ($203) per ton of coal stockpiled (delivered); to put this in perspective, the average power plant paid roughly $48 per ton for coal during our sample period. These sizable but highly localized environmental costs of coal transportation and storage disproportionately impact the economically disadvantaged communities living near coal-fired power plants.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from ($5) for electronic delivery.

Access to NBER Papers

You are eligible for a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.


Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23417

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Iizuka, Nishiyama, Chen, and Eggleston w23413 Is Preventive Care Worth the Cost? Evidence from Mandatory Checkups in Japan
Barreca, Neidell, and Sanders w23524 Long-Run Pollution Exposure and Adult Mortality: Evidence from the Acid Rain Program
Eyer and Kahn w23190 Prolonging Coal’s Sunset: The Causes and Consequences of Local Protectionism for a Declining Polluting Industry
Collins and Moody w23397 Racial Differences in American Women's Labor Market Outcomes: A Long-Run View
Lemoine w23420 Innovation-Led Transitions in Energy Supply
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us