As coal slowly dies in the US, it's starting to gain new life in other parts of the world. With cheap and abundant natural gas supplies and the EPA's dooming, costly restrictions on emissions at home, America's energy mix is experiencing a shift. So what is a struggling industry to do? Export.
US coal exports have reached a two decade high as markets in Asia and Europe offer an outlet for the fuel. According to analysis by the Associated Press, coal exports topped 107 million tons of fuel worth almost $16 billion last year—the highest level since 1991. The analysis also showed that exports to South Korea grew by over 80 percent, while Japan's grew by 110 percent as the nation desperately seeks alternatives to nuclear power following Fukushima. Exports are also increasing in Brazil, China and throughout Europe.
“There’s no question that our supplies of coal are adequate. The question is, how do we find new markets for coal to keep the share of electricity generation strong?” said Luke Popovich with the National Mining Association. “While its use is relatively declining here, it is absolutely soaring in most other places.”
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As exports of coal are expected to continue to grow, companies like Arch Coal Inc. predict that export capacity could reach as much as 245 million tons over the next few years. That will mean expanding coal ports on the West and Gulf coasts or even along the East Coast and in Texas.
So, how effective are the EPA's restrictions on coal in the long run? The world will still burn the dirty fuel, but now we can add a little more pollution from the transportation of it out of the US.