Battle Looms Over US Coal Exports

A battle is looming over proposals to construct coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest, the Obama administration’s leases of large tracts in the West for coal mining, and the important questions that these issues have raised about the use of coal in the United States.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) released a report on these critical issues, called "Coal-Fired Conflict: Enabling Exports Clouds Environmental and Economic Goals," by Kate Gordon and Tom Kenworthy.

In Washington State, proposals to build the region’s first large coal export terminals – at the very same time the environmentally progressive state works to wean itself off coal for its own electricity – have generated a broad-based campaign of opposition to facilities that would include docks, conveyor systems, and large coal storage areas needed to load huge ships bound for Asian markets.

Meanwhile, U.S. utilities are abandoning plans to build new coal-fired electric plants, and coal’s dominant share of the U.S. power market is beginning to decline. Yet, the Department of the Interior is preparing to lease large tracts of its Wyoming lands to new coal mining projects.

"The shift to a green economy," says CAP, "is more than just investing in clean and efficient energy technologies in various industries – it is a transformation of the economy from one based on volatile, ever-risky fossil fuels to one that is more diversified, more sustainable, and more economically prosperous overall. But if the United States is serious about combating the perils of climate change through economic and environmental transformation, should we really be encouraging the export of American coal to Asian markets?"

Coal companies, already boosting exports through Vancouver, British Columbia, are increasingly viewing China and other overseas markets as an answer to cooling domestic demand.

While coal exports are still relatively small – about 41 million tons in 2009 – they are climbing quckly according to Energy Information Administration data.

Through the first nine months of 2010, the US exported nearly 61 million tons of coal to Asia – three and a half times total 2009 exports, and exports to China rose over 10 and a half times.

This report considers the consequences of a resource-extraction model of economic growth and evaluates the current debate on exporting coal in Washington state and Washington, D.C.

Read the report: 

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