Huff Post Green, May 22, 2013
By Kyle Ash
Coal exports are good for the environment — they are actually saying this. In Oregon and Washington State the coal industry has been pushing this line at town hall meetings, government hearings, and lobby visits.
Peabody Energy and Arch Coal are in on the ruse. The tenuously solvent Australian company Ambre Energy is certainly involved. So is Cloud Peak, an ironic moniker for an offshoot of the infamous Rio Tinto — a nation-less company defiantly named after acid mine drainage.
Counter-intuitively, having bought BNSF Railway to profit from coal exports, Warren Buffett seems to be tooting the horn for companies doing poorly in the stock market year after year. With more money than God, Buffett is probably just hedging that the U.S. coal industry’s last gasp will be trying for massive exports. It’s really too bad if he’s giving old coal hope.
The seemingly logical argument is that because coal from the Powder River Basin (PRB) in Wyoming and Montana is relatively low in sulfur getting Asia to burn it would mean less sulfur dioxide (SO2) polluting the Pacific Northwest. Possible importers are not just China, but Japan, South Korea, India, and elsewhere.
The argument is false. Although PRB coal is lower in sulfur than most U.S. coal, it is higher in sulfur than other coal on the global market, including exports from Indonesia, Mongolia and Australia. This is in part because the energy content of PRB coal is lower per ton than other types of low-sulfur, sub-bituminous coal available internationally. You have to burn more per watt, producing more emissions per watt. PRB coal emissions of SO2 per watt is about average compared to competing non-U.S. coals on the market now.