U.S. drillers, miners would be out billions if paid climate, health costs: study

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. coal, natural gas and motor fuel producers get implicit benefits worth tens of billion of dollars a year by not having to pay for the damage their products do to the climate and human health, a study said on Monday.

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As the world begins to transition to technologies that emit less pollution to generate electricity and fuel vehicles, economists are attempting to estimate the cost to society of burning fossil fuels.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Yale University economist Matthew Kotchen calculated that U.S. fossil fuel companies get direct benefits of $62 billion a year in implicit subsidies due to what he calls “inefficient pricing”.

The overall health, climate and transportation costs to society are about $568 billion, the study, titled “The producer benefits of implicit fossil fuel subsidies in the United States”, said.

Peabody Energy Corp got about $1.56 billion in implicit subsidies in 2018, while Arch Resources got a little over $1 billion in the same year, the study said.

Natural gas producer EQT Corp got about $696 million while Exxon Mobil got about $688 million, it added.

None of the companies immediately commented when asked about the estimates.

The study, the first to estimate the benefits on a company specific basis, estimated coal companies would pay the most if policies were changed to account for the costs.

Kotchen launched the research as policymakers were considering new subsidies for fossil fuel companies to help them recover from anemic demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.

President Joe Biden wants to end fossil fuel subsidies, but that could be difficult given the Democrats have the slimmest majority possible in the Senate, and some Democrats come from states that produce fossil fuels.

Still, the study could help spur policy to address the issues, said Gilbert Metcalf, an economist at Tufts University. “A better understanding of the transfers involved ... should be extremely helpful for policy makers hoping to eliminate these wasteful subsidies.”

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Jan Harvey