Planned West Coast Port Expansions Would Enable Asia To Import More US Coal

coal train photo

Coal train. Image credit:Wikipedia

US coal production is at a tipping point, leaning toward more exports to Asia. It's just as easy to load the train with the kind of coal used to make steel or activated carbon as with the sort used to generate electricity - and Chinese demand is on the increase for both. Counting on US coal port facility development, the USA is poised to satisfy that growing demand in parallel with an anticipated 20% reduction in its own coal-fired electrical generating capacity. (The expanded West Coast port facilities would be capable of handling many millions of tons per year, as discussed below.)

Looked at as a way to increase "the economy," coal export prospects will be greeted with cheers by Presidential advisers and Congressional panderers alike. I thought of three coal-export-to-China scenarios that all seem plausible. They are: 1.) Mr Peabody's Coal Train; 2.) "Green Defense Holds The Line" and 3.) Flyover Coals Succumb to Democrat Coastals. Read on for some more real good fun with coal ports.The LA Times blog has a story which documents the scale of the planned coal exports.

Coal originating from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana would travel to Washington via rail to a former aluminum plant site in Longview. From there, Millennium Bulk Logistics, a subsidiary of Ambre Energy, proposes to ship it to clients in Asia, chiefly China.

Though there have been small-scale shipments in the Western U.S., British Columbia has handled the bulk of the region's coal exports. The Longview facility is only the first of several proposed along the West Coast, as coal producers scramble to adjust to markets that are booming in Asia and dwindling in the U.S.

Probably you could plot Chinese imports of coal over time and see a strong correlation to continuing job loss in the US manufacturing sector.

Chinese coal, it should be remembered, has problems with excessive levels of fluorides, chlorides, sulfur, and heavy metals, and is commonly of lower heat value than imported varieties. This is why they pay top dollar for imported coal.

Anyhow, here's about those scenarios.
Mr Peabody's Coal Train heads west. - As soon as the US economy starts creeping back up, US consumers and companies will order loads more crap made in China, increased portions of which will be produced with and from US coal. Wall Street rejoices; Cable TV business reporters teleprompt their joyous declaration; and, coal mining interests quickly lose interest in what EPA has in mind for for regulating power plant emissions.

In response to the gaping coal furnace that China has become, California, Oregon, and Washington port authorities expand port facilities to feed those boilers. The longshoreman's union tells Sierra Club to take a hike.

US Coal prices will follow Chinese demand growth, giving renewable energy and natural gas fired electricity a leg up on the US electricity market. Over time, US carbon emissions will fall as China's rise. China is the carbon bear. USA is the carbon bull.

Green Defense Holds The Line
The idea of Appalachian mountain tops being blown off and stream banks piled with overburden so that coal can be shipped to China is very different than this being done to support US manufacturing and power making. I can not imagine as much Congressional support for it as now exists, should this come to pass.

Wyoming is likely to be just fine with selling more Powder River coal to China.

Turning small US west coast ports into massive coal transhipment points will not be welcomed by all, however. Both because of the direct environmental impacts in port communities and because of the prospect of being instrumental in feeding the Chinese dragon with more climate destroying fuel, more resistance can be expected.

The right to evaluate impacts in such cases is a state right - these are not Federal projects. So, it is possible that local opposition on environmental grounds, similar to the opposition widely mounted against LPG transfer facilities, may well prevent the millions of tons of coal being easily exported to China, simply by holding up port development.

Flyover Coal States Succumb to Democrat Coastals
I had in mind here to write a scenario that pits Tea Partiers from the most coal dependent states against the Congressional delegations of California, Washington, and Oregon. But I'm not sure anyone cares any more about that sort of wrangling. Can always update the post if people want it.

More posts on Chinese coal burning.
China's Coal-Burning Cost the Environment $13 Billion Last Year ...
China Shutters 1600 Dangerous Coal Mines
China's Coal Industry: The Waste Has Us Gasping
Global Coal Burning Stagnates For First Time in 10 Years! But ...
Mercury From Chinese Coal Use Pollutes Oregon's Willamette River ...