Maclean’s — Canada’s only national weekly current affairs magazine
By Luiza Ch. Savage, June 10, 2014
America’s dirty secret…
Shipping coal to China could wipe out the benefits of Obama’s climate-change policy.
The centrepiece of Barack Obama’s climate policy, announced this month, limits greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants largely by cutting the country’s reliance on coal. The policy was touted as a major piece of the President’s environmental legacy but it raised an important question: what will happen to America’s coal—the largest recoverable reserves in the world?
It’s a question that could soon have an answer. With coal demand at home expected to fall by 20 per cent due to new regulations, and competitive pressure from low-priced natural gas, coal companies are now pushing to increase exports to Asia. China in particular consumes almost half of the world’s coal—and in recent years demand has soared. Three new coal-export ports are being proposed for the Pacific coast: two in Washington state and one in Oregon. They could eventually ship up to 100 million tons of coal per year—an amount equivalent to the total volume of coal the U.S. will export this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA). “We view the Northwest port terminals as advantageous locations for exports to Asia—the most efficient location for exporting to countries that are going to be generating strong demand for coal,” says Nancy Gravatt, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, the U.S. industry group. Top Asian destinations are China, South Korea, India and Japan.