U.S. Coal Exports Reduce Energy Dependence in Europe (Virginia Pilot)
Porter: Coal as a weapon
By J. Winston PorterAs Vladimir Putin eyes his next target for annexation, energy remains the key to checking his takeover plans.
Putin’s power rests squarely on his oil and natural gas exports, which account for an astonishing 52 percent of the Russian state budget. However, this power can become Putin’s most glaring vulnerability if other countries begin to cut into the monopoly Russia has in selling gas to much of Europe.
Increasing exports of U.S. coal and expected sales of liquefied natural gas could have a potent one-two punch to help our European allies reduce dependence on Russian energy, while taking a hefty bite out of Putin’s wallet.
Eastern European nations, in particular, are pleading with Congress and the Obama administration to allow the export of surging U.S. natural gas supplies, a product of our shale “fracking” revolution. The Department of Energy has now-approved seven LNG export terminals, but these facilities remain several years away from providing gas to the global marketplace.
In the near-term, however, U.S. coal exports – likely through Norfolk, home of the nation’s largest coal-exporting facility – could fill a critical void in European energy security. Actually, coal and natural gas overlap; both can be used to produce electric power, so we can replace much of Russia’s gas with America’s plentiful coal and natural gas.
About a quarter of Europe’s gas supply comes from Russia and roughly half flows to Europe through Ukraine. The Russians are in a position to invade Eastern Ukraine while also cutting off the supply of gas to and from Ukraine. In such a scenario U.S. coal might well be an answer to meeting European energy needs.
Already, many European nations are importing more American coal to both reduce their reliance on Russian gas and to balance energy costs. European imports of U.S. coal actually hit an all-time high in 2012.
Coal provided 43 percent of the U.K.’s electricity that year – a significant jump from just 30 percent in 2011. In Germany, which is heralded by some for its embrace of costly renewable energy, the use of coal is surging. In 2013, coal plants provided 52 percent of the nation’s electricity, up from 45 percent in 2012.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk recently urged Europe to make full use of its fossil fuels: “In the EU’s eastern states, Poland among them, coal is synonymous with energy security.”
If the U.S. is to help our allies wean themselves from Russia’s gas monopoly, we must both allow the free market to work and properly measure energy security and foreign policy with environmental considerations. Overzealous actions to limit the production and free trade of fossil fuels in the name of “solving” climate change would be a blunder of the worst kind.
And if Europe’s energy predicament can provide us any lesson, it’s that we must not lose sight of our own energy security.
Unfortunately, bad White House and EPA policies are threatening the use of “fracking” to produce both oil and gas. Other misguided regulations are forcing well-operating coal power plants into early retirement, while making it almost impossible to build new and cleaner coal facilities.
These regulatory missteps are compounding to weaken our economic competitiveness and undercut the balance and security of our energy supply.
The U.S. is blessed with vast oil and natural gas resources and the world’s largest coal reserves. It’s critical to both our own security and that of our allies that we find increasingly efficient and clean ways to produce and use these resources. Oil, gas and coal remain the unrivaled centerpieces to both our energy supply, and the world’s.
We are more than capable of flexing our energy muscle. Thankfully, that is a question of policy, not availability and access to resources. Let’s help Europe turn Putin’s energy weapon back on himself, while improving the American economy.
J. Winston Porter is an energy and environment consultant in Savannah, Ga., and was an assistant administrator of the EPA under President Ronald Reagan.
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