Myth: Coal is the worst fossil fuel for the economy and the environment

THE REALITY: Coal is not the worst fossil fuel. In fact, for both the economy and the environment, petroleum is more costly than coal.

When it comes to carbon dioxide emissions, coal is not the worst offender. For the last 15 years, petroleum has been the leading emitter of CO2 in the U.S. Not coal and not natural gas.

The root of the misconception about the relative CO2 contributions of fossil fuels partially stems from lumping electricity and transportation fuels together in one broad category of “energy”. In reality, coal is used for electricity. The share of U.S. electricity that comes from coal is forecasted to fall below 40 % for the year, its lowest level since World War II. Four years ago, it was 50 %. By the end of this decade, it is likely to be near 30 %, meaning that coal is a decreasing problem.

Petroleum is not only the most total carbon-emitting fossil fuel; it is also the most costly. The U.S. spends over twenty times more on oil than on coal. Americans spent more than $700 billion on oil in 2011 alone. The cost of coal to the economy on the other hand is only 4.5% of that amount or $30 billion annually.
Source: US Energy Information Administration

To significantly reduce both our spending and our carbon dioxide emissions, we must divert our attention, resources and technological innovations to reducing our consumption of the worst fossil fuel – petroleum. Only by allowing replacement fuels to compete in the fuel market alongside gasoline can this be attained.