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Hard Place and a Rock: Coal Won’t Provide U.S. Energy Security, VT Law School Study Finds

October 14, 2011

SOUTH ROYALTON, VT -- The United States' energy security won't improve--and economic, social and environmental risks will expand exponentially--if the nation switches from oil to coal for most of its electricity and transportation needs, a Vermont Law School study finds.

Image of coal miningThe study, titled "From a hard place to a rock: Questioning the energy security of a coal-based economy," is published in Energy Policy. Read the study.

Myriad processes are required to render coal safer and cleaner, meaning a transition to a coal-based economy would require vastly more coal to generate the same amount of energy, the study reports.

"Every aspect of a coal-based economy exacts greater external costs from the increased mining, transportation, processing, combusting and clean up of coal," according to the study. "Some of these costs will be reflected in higher energy costs, squeezing a burdened underclass and crippling an economy in tentative recovery. But many costs will not be reflected in energy prices. These include the increased deaths from coal mining, the increased morbidity and mortality associated with inhalation of particulates, the devastation of the sight and soul of rural mining communities, and the heightened competition over dwindling sources of potable water.

"In theory we may achieve the technological capability to transition from oil dependency to an independent coal-based economy. But, pursuing more CCS (carbon capture and storage) and CTL (coal-to-liquids) research and development risks delaying more durable measures and diverts resources from more effective alternatives like energy efficiency and renewable resources."

The study's authors are available to comment:
Associate Professor Benjamin Sovacool: 802.831.1053 or
Senior Research Fellow Christopher Cooper: 202.251.7166 or
Professor Pat Parenteau: 802.831.1305 or

CONTACT: John Cramer, Associate Director of Media Relations
Office 802.831.1106, cell 540.798.7099, home 802.649.2235,

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