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Proposal: Buy Out, Shut Down U.S. Coal Industry For $50 Billion

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Two BNSF locomotives hauling coal trains meet near Wichita Falls, Texas

Two BNSF locomotives hauling coal trains meet near Wichita Falls, Texas

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Give Felix Kramer credit for thinking big.

Twelve years ago, he and others founded CalCars, a group dedicated to promoting plug-in hybrid vehicles with large battery packs--and built the world's first plug-in Prius hybrid.

Now he and coauthor Gil Friend have published an audacious proposal to buy up and shut down every private and public coal company operating in the United States.

MORE: Electric Utilities Now Fighting Home Solar As Threat To Their Business

The price: a surprisingly low $50 billion.

Power plant

Power plant

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The pair's goal is to eliminate coal as a fuel for generating electricity in the U.S. Compared to growing supplies of natural gas--let alone renewable sources like wind and solar--coal is a high-carbon fuel that produces greater levels of climate-change gases per kilowatt-hour generated.

In an article yesterday in The Guardian, the pair outline the benefits from shutting down U.S. coal beyond addressing climate change: eliminating acid rain from sulfur dioxide emissions, smog from nitrous oxides, human cardiopulmonary damage from particulates, and airborne emission of toxins like mercury, lead, and cadmium.

Their calculated cost of just $50 billion is based on discounted rates for coal companies, which they argue face a dark future, with new coal plants all but dead and falling stock prices.

Some economists have already suggested that coal should be accounted for not as a valuable commodity but as a "stranded asset" that has lost value well ahead of its projected economic life.

The shutdown proposal includes the costs of retraining for the 87,000 coal-industry workers who would lose their jobs over the proposed 10-year phaseout of coal.

Kramer and Friend suggest that the entire sum could be funded as a public service, for the good of the nation and the planet, by some of the 114 billionaire families who have pledged to give away half their assets to charity.

Starting this Sunday, the duo will lobby for the proposal at the annual TED Conference in Vancouver.

Meanwhile, Kramer has launched Beyond Cassandra, an organization aimed at "Incubating climate awareness strategies and turning them into campaigns for climate hawks."

Could it happen? What do you think? Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

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