Date of Award



Edward Van Buren


In February 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a prominent environmental lawyer, came to Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus and spoke to an auditorium full of students. During his lecture, Mr. Kennedy mentioned that very little research had been done on the true cost of coal and that it would make an excellent thesis paper for a student. Mr. Kennedy piqued my interest and I began to seriously consider taking his suggestion for my thesis.

As I began researching the true cost of coal I decided to use three primary disciplines to approach the problem: environmental history, environmental politics and law, and environmental economics. When looking at these three disciplines I found that coal is often advertised as the cheapest form of energy, but this low cost does not account for the negative externalities associated with mining and processing. Once these negative externalities are factored in, coal becomes an expensive, unrealistic and unsustainable form of energy.

As I began to research “the true cost of coal” I realized that it was important to understand not only the externalities associated with coal, but to also understand the history of coal in the United States. Coal is one of America’s most abundant non-renewable resources which has helped cause our coal dependency. Additionally, several key pieces of legislation have furthered the country’s coal dependency. In order to reduce America’s dependency on coal and to promote the research and use of new alternative energy, it is critically important to understand how we achieved this dependency so that the mindset fostered by coal can be changed.