Are Fossil Fuels Morally Praiseworthy?

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Alex Epstein, the president and founder of a for-profit think-tank called the Center for Industrial Progress, claims he’s seeking to bring about a “new industrial revolution.” The manifesto on his organization’s website claims that, “For the last 40 years, so-called environmentalists have held back industrial progress around the world.”

Epstein also wrote a book titled the The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels wherein he claimed that all recent human progress is the result of the availability of cheap energy generated by fossil fuels. He backs up his theory with statistics showing how the quality of life for people across the globe has dramatically improved in the last couple of centuries – all because economies were powered by fossil fuels.

His clever argument is flawed, however, because he didn’t factor in all of the external costs created by the production of fossil fuel energy. They include respiratory and heart diseases, cancer, mercury contamination in lake waters,  acidification of the oceans, depletion and contamination of groundwater aquifers, mountaintop removals, coal miner deaths, crude oil spills, poisonous coal ash spills, destruction of wildlife habitat, and wars in the Middle East. And, of course, there are the enormous problems being caused by climate change.

The environmental regulations that are being imposed by the federal government on the companies that generate energy from fossil fuels are an attempt to internalize these costs by requiring these companies to include them in their retail energy prices, thereby making the prices more accurate and our energy markets more efficient. Therefore, complaints that enactment of these regulations would raise energy prices aren’t true, because these costs are already spread throughout the nation’s economy, instead of being internalized in fossil fuel energy prices – as they should be.

 

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