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Author Topic: Big Coal Exports  (Read 1061 times)

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Big Coal Exports
« on: October 10, 2013, 06:23:09 am »
Why Big Coal’s export terminals could be even worse than the Keystone XL pipeline

Note: this is just the text-- follow the link for pictures, links and charts which I simply didn't have the time to embed.

Why Big Coal’s export terminals could be even worse than the Keystone XL pipeline
By Josh Harkinson

After spending years trying and failing to win a global climate treaty, environmental activists have finally changed tactics. Instead of pouring all their efforts into passing doomed legislation, they’re picking big symbolic battles with the fossil fuel industry.

The campaign to derail the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada’s tar sands is just the start. On the West Coast, environmentalists have mounted a similar attack on the coal industry, which wants to reverse its steep national decline by exporting millions of tons coal to China. Green groups believe they can prevent the shipments (and keep the coal in the ground) by stopping the construction of huge new coal export terminals at ports in Oregon and Washington. “Based on our back-of-the-envelope calculation, the burning of this exported coal could have a larger climate impact than all of the oil pumped through the Keystone pipeline,” says Kimberly Larson, a spokesperson for the Power Past Coal campaign, a coalition of more than 100 environmental and community groups that oppose the coal terminals.

Here’s what you need to know about the biggest climate change fight that you’ve probably never heard of:

Why are American environmentalists focusing on coal exports when we burn so much coal right here?

To be sure, lots of coal-fired power plants still operate in the United States, but they’re quickly being squeezed out of business by new federal standards for mercury, arsenic, and other toxins, which will take effect in 2016. Any new coal-fired plants must meet strict carbon emission standards – a virtual impossibility given the high cost of so-called “clean coal” technologies. And at any rate, the Environmental Protection Agency may actually be the least of Big Coal’s worries. As a result of the fracking boom in Texas, the Midwest, and Pennsylvania, the price of natural gas in the United States has fallen to below that of coal, and it is on track to overtake its dirtier cousin as the nation’s leading source of power generation:

Energy Information Agency
Click to embiggen.

Click to embiggen.
So how much coal do we export?

Last year, the United States exported 125 million short tons of coal. While that’s just a fraction of the 890 million tons that we consumed domestically, the exports are on a steep trajectory. Behold.

Click to embiggen.
Who buys our coal?

Canada, Mexico, and lots of European countries buy American coal, but our biggest single customer is China, which last year purchased 7.8 million tons from us. The People’s Republic already accounts for almost half of the world’s coal consumption, and demand continues to skyrocket for cheap coal-fired electricity to power its growing industrial parks and mega-cities:

Click to embiggen.
But doesn’t China have its own?

To be sure, China mines a lot of coal at home — more than any other country, in fact. But it’s not enough to meet its needs anymore. Around 2009, it switched from being a net coal exporter to a huge net importer. (See graph below.) Of course, China also uses electricity generated from natural gas, but it can’t get enough of it to slake its thirst for cheap power. Transporting natural gas requires pipelines or specialized tankers, making it much more difficult and expensive to import than coal.

Click to embiggen.
What’s stopping U.S. coal companies from exporting everything they’ve got to China?

Distance and transportation bottlenecks, basically. Last year, America’s leading coal-exporting state, West Virginia, shipped 27 percent of its coal overseas. A lot of that was metallurgical-grade coal bound for steel foundries in China. Yet West Virginia faces stiff competition in China from Australia, the largest producer of metallurgical coal, which benefits from much lower shipping costs. “It’s going to be a tough time for coal, and it’s going to be a tough time for West Virginia,” Michael Zervos, the CEO of United Coal, told the Charleston Daily Mail in July.

In order to compete in China, the U.S. coal industry is reorienting itself toward the West Coast. The nation’s two largest coal companies, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, want to strip-mine vast reserves in Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin, then ship the coal by rail to ports in Oregon and Washington, where it would be loaded on cargo ships bound for China. But the ports lack the capacity to move that amount of coal cargo. In 2011, just 7 million of the nation’s 107 million tons of coal exports left the country via Pacific Ocean ports. The coal companies want to change that by building the following new export terminals:

Power Past Coal: An Overview of Coal Export Off The West Coast
How much coal could be exported from these terminals?

Up to 123 million tons — an amount equivalent to all U.S. coal exports last year.

How is the coal industry selling its plans to the public?

As huge economic stimulus projects. For example, boosters of the proposed $700 million Gateway Pacific Terminal in Bellingham, Wash., predict that the terminal will generate $140 million in annual economic activity, create an estimated 4,400 jobs during construction, and support 1,250 permanent positions at the docks and in associated professions.

The industry also argues that the environmental impacts of the terminals are overblown — and some experts agree. Sending American coal abroad will increase coal prices at home, hastening our transition to cleaner energy sources, argues Stanford economist Frank Wolak. China will burn coal no matter what; it doesn’t have any other low-cost options, he adds. So if somebody is going to sell coal to China, Wolak contends, it might as well be a country like the United States that can produce electricity from cleaner sources.

What do environmental groups think about the potential impacts?

Environmental groups aren’t buying Womack’s theory. “Not long ago, U.S. demand for electricity was seen as totally inelastic, rising in lockstep with gross domestic production, but that is no longer true,” points out Ralph Cavanaugh, codirector of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s energy program. Cavanaugh believes that keeping U.S. coal off the global market indeed will push China towards cleaner options, such as boosting energy efficiency.

And climate change isn’t the only global impact of China’s coal habit. Sulfur, carbon, and other coal-related air pollutants travel from China across the Pacific, where they’re regularly picked up by air monitors in California, Oregon, and Washington. Emissions from coal plants also have led to a global rise in mercury contamination in fish.

The coal terminals and the trains that supply them are raising environmental justice concerns in surrounding towns. The heaviest and slowest trains in the railway industry, coal trains require more engine power than conventional trains. Their diesel and coal dust emissions will cause higher rates of heart and lung disease, cancer, and childhood developmental problems in communities near the tracks, activists argue.

And coal transport raises new safety concerns for the railroads. Coal and coal dust often falls out of train cars onto the tracks, where it can increase the risk of derailments. The slow-moving trains will create delays for emergency vehicles.

Green groups have been particularly concerned about the impacts of coal shipments on the Northwest’s sensitive marine habitats. A coalition of groups led by the Sierra Club has filed a federal lawsuit against BNSF Railway, a major shipper of Powder River Basin coal, accusing it of violating the Clean Water Act by letting coal spill from its trains into waterways. A report on the marine impacts of the Gateway Pacific Terminal in Bellingham notes that it would ship 974 loads of coal a year on vessels twice the size of oil tankers. An existing coal export terminal in Delta, British Columbia, releases more than 1.5 million pounds of coal dust each year — an amount that could be a potential “nail in the coffin” for a dwindling variety of Pacific herring that lives near the Gateway Pacific Terminal, according to a report by Power Past Coal [PDF].

Where can I find a list of the terminals, who is backing each, and their status?

Glad you asked …

1. Gateway Pacific Terminal
Location: Bellingham, Wash.
Annual coal shipments: 53 million tons
Proposed by: Peabody Coal, SSA Marine, Goldman Sachs
Status: Initial environmental impact hearings completed. Now under environmental review by county, state, and national authorities. Cherry Point has become a major point of contention in a race for Whatcom County commissioner.

2. Gray’s Harbor
Location: Hoquiam, Wash.
Annual coal shipments: 5 million tons
Proposed by: RailAmerica
Status: Plans abandoned in August 2012

3. Millennium Bulk Terminals
Location: Longview, Wash.
Annual coal shipments: 49 million tons
Proposed by: Millennium Bulk Logistics, a subsidiary of Australian coal company Ambre Energy
Status: State and local authorities are conducting hearings to solicit feedback on what types of environmental impacts to consider.

4. Morrow Pacific
Location: Boardman, Ore.
Annual coal shipments: 7-9 million tons by barge down the Columbia River
Proposed by: Ambre Energy
Status: On Nov. 1, Oregon’s Department of State Lands will approve or deny a permit for the terminal. The proposal would double barge traffic on the Columbia.

5. St. Helens
Location: St. Helens, Ore.
Annual coal shipments: 30 million tons
Proposed by: Kinder Morgan
Status: Kinder Morgan pulled plans for the terminal this past summer.

6. Coos Bay
Location: Coos Bay, Ore.
Annual coal shipments: 9 million tons
Proposed by: California-based Metro Ports
Status: Shelved. In April, Metro Ports allowed its lease on the proposed terminal’s real estate to expire.

How have state and federal authorities responded to the coal terminal proposals?

So far, the Washington Department of Ecology appears to be subjecting the ports to much broader and more detailed environmental scrutiny than other regulatory authorities. Its environmental review of the Gateway Pacific project will include impacts not just at the port, but along the entire route of the coal trains — as well as the climatological effects of burning the coal overseas.

Last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it was parting ways with Washington on a joint environmental review of the coal port. The Corps will now conduct a separate review that will only consider the terminal’s effects on the surrounding community and marine habitat, but not the emissions that will result from burning the coal in Asia. The move drew protests from environmental groups.

In Oregon, where environmental laws are generally narrower and less strict than in Washington state, authorities are subjecting the Port Morrow terminal to an environmental “assessment” rather than a full environmental impact statement. They have not announced plans to consider the project’s international environmental footprint.

Who will make the ultimate decision?

Given the controversy surrounding these projects, it’s reasonable to expect that any final decisions will be made by the guys at the top: Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. But another wild card in Washington is the publicly elected commissioner of public lands, Peter Goldmark, who can unilaterally reject the terminals because they’ll be located on property overseen by his Department of Natural Resources. Goldmark is a rancher from the eastern Washington hamlet of Okanogan who also happens to hold a Ph.D. in neurobiology from Harvard. He declined an interview request from Mother Jones.

If the Washington and Oregon ports get blocked, what’s to prevent U.S. coal companies from shipping it out of Canada?

Right now, the coal companies are trying to construct four coal terminals in British Columbia, but B.C. environmental activists are fighting back just as fiercely as their comrades in the States. In the unlikely event that all four terminals are approved, they will add just 31 million tons of annual coal export capacity — a fraction of what the industry wants to build here in America.

How much greenhouse gas could coal shipped from West Coast ports release into the environment?

Here’s an analysis from the Sightline Institute, which also includes the proposed terminals in Canada:

Sightline Institute
(The red and green bars mostly refer to Canadian gas and oil pipelines that would carry hydrocarbons from the tar sands.)

How dependent are the coal port plans on global coal prices?

Very. China’s slowing economic growth and efforts to diversify its sources of electric power have combined to cause a glut in the global coal supply. The window for Big Coal’s export plans may be closing on its own, but it could reopen if China’s economy improves.

What do people in the Northwest think about the coal ports?

A poll completed last month by the opinion research firm FM3 found that narrow majorities of voters in Washington (51 percent) and Oregon (54 percent) oppose the export terminals. Opposition has grown by double digits since last year, and those who oppose the ports feel much more strongly about the issue than those who support them.

This story was produced by Mother Jones as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Josh Harkinson is a staff reporter at Mother Jones.


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Re: Big Coal Exports
« Reply #1 on: October 10, 2013, 03:55:04 pm »
King Coal needs to go away. If they can't buy off the EPA from implementing the new rules on coal power plants here, that will help.

RMI (Rocky Mountain Institute) is working with the Chinese to stop their massive coal use. By the way, it's not common knowledge but the coal power plants in China are more efficient and less dirty than ours.

For good news on the big plan to make coal unprofitable (and ALL other fossil fuels as well) when compared with renewables, the RMI web site has lots of info. They wrote a book called, "Reinventing Fire". There are lots of U-tube presentations of Reinventing Fire out there. I've been watching some of them and they are quite promising as well as being very hard nosed and down to earth.

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Matt 10:37


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Coal on the Decline -- 150 Coal Plants Set for Retirement

Movement sparks shift to clean energy, major carbon reductions

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- Today the Sierra Club and a growing coalition of local, regional and national allies announced the retirement of its 150th coal plant -- a significant milestone in the ongoing campaign to move the country beyond coal no later than 2030. With today’s announcement that the Brayton Point Power Station in Massachusetts would retire by 2017, the campaign officially marked 150 coal plants that have announced plans to retire since 2010.
According to the Clean Air Task Force, retiring these 150 coal plants will help to save 4,000 lives every year, prevent 6,200 heart attacks every year and prevent 66,300 asthma attacks every year. Retiring these plants will also avoid $1.9 billion in health costs.  

Sierra Club has made the announcement public via a video on YouTube featuring a special acoustic performance by indie alternative group Nico Vega.
“The closure of the Brayton Point Power Station is a powerful example of how local action can have a global impact," said Michael R. Bloomberg, philanthropist and Mayor of New York City. "Over the last three years, action by individual communities - in partnership with the Sierra Club and Bloomberg Philanthropies - has led to the closure of 150 coal plants, one at a time. We will continue to support those who are on the ground working to close the nation's dirty coal plants, which kill 13,000 Americans every year and threaten the future of our planet."

“Plant by plant and community by community we are not only curbing our country’s carbon pollution, but we are also saving lives,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “By moving our country off of dirty, dangerous coal, we are creating new opportunities for clean energy and thousands of new American jobs to protect workers and public health. The transition from coal to clean energy can and will transform our economy by establishing a huge new sector of good jobs that power our communities without poisoning our children.”
"New England is leading the nation in the move away from dirty coal and toward innovative renewable energy solutions like our growing offshore wind industry," said James McCaffery, New England Beyond Coal campaign representative for the Sierra Club. "This is a testament to the great work of local residents who have been fighting to clean up the air in the region for more than a decade,"
“Our coalition of environmental, conservation, public health and civil rights groups has achieved a milestone that few thought possible,” said Verena Owen, a veteran volunteer leader who co-leads the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “In 2010, analysts expected about 30,000 megawatts of coal would retire over the next decade. But in less than three years the campaign has nearly doubled these predictions, securing the retirement of more than 58,000 megawatts: more than one sixth of the entire nation’s coal capacity and more than one quarter of all coal plants in the country. Through grassroots activism and the power of passionate Americans across the country, we are telling the dirty, outdated and deadly coal industry that enough is enough.”
The coal industry is facing multiple threats, including rising coal costs, falling clean energy prices, a motivated grassroots coalition of organizers working to move the nation off coal, and the growing national demand to tackle climate-disrupting carbon pollution from coal plants, which was the centerpiece of the climate strategy President Obama announced in June. With strong carbon pollution standards in place, these coal plants must either clean up their pollution through modern pollution controls, or transition away from burning dirty coal.
Indeed, as utilities and energy companies realize that coal is an increasingly bad investment, they are transitioning their resources to cleaner, renewable sources of energy like wind and solar. Today, the United States has more than 60,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity, enough to power the equivalent of 15 million American homes. In fact, the state of Texas produces so much wind energy, that if Texas were a country, it would be the world's sixth ranking wind energy producer. Meanwhile, states across the country are already being powered by renewable energy. In 2012, Iowa and South Dakota received more than 20 percent of their energy from wind, and nine states produced more than 10 percent of their electricity from wind energy.
What’s more, this year the U.S. joined three other countries with more than 10,000 megawatts of installed solar capacity.  Solar is the fastest growing energy option in the US, and in states like New Jersey, North Carolina, California and Illinois, solar power is both creating local jobs and providing clean, affordable electricity. This growth in clean energy has helped to create more jobs across the country. Clean energy industries now employ nearly 200,000 Americans.

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Matt 10:37


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Wind Energy That Is Cheaper than Coal
« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2013, 07:07:19 pm »
Updated: Massachusetts Utilities Sign PPA for Wind Energy That Is Cheaper than Coal   :o   ;D

The price was so good they doubled their planned procurement; "it was a no-brainer"

 James Montgomery, Associate Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com 
 September 24, 2013 

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Matt 10:37


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