US Coal Exports
Exports Economic Contributions Report

Building America’s economy while supporting world development through coal exports is an activity conducted with high standards for environmental responsibility.

In its 2013 report on American energy, the Bipartisan Policy Center concluded: “The current rigorous permitting process (in the United States) can provide ample opportunity to identify and address local environmental concerns liked to the construction and operation of new (coal) export facilities in the United States.” Often, such local concerns turn out to be unfounded. For instance, a detailed study on particulate emissions from coal trains was conducted in Australia in 2012. The study concluded that particulate matter measured in the air near trains was very low. Furthermore, concentrations of particulate matter near loaded and unloaded coal train passes were comparable to those near ordinary freight trains.

The Bipartisan Policy Center also concluded: “We do not believe that impeding the global trade of fossil fuels is an effective or efficient means of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.” The reason for this conclusion is simple: If other countries don’t buy their coal from the United States, they will simply buy it from somewhere else.

Analysis by Energy Policy Research Foundation, Inc., using the “Merit Order Curve” of global coal production shows that the U.S. is a relatively low cost producer including rail and shipment costs to Asian destinations. Coal from the Powder River Basin can be produced and delivered to Asian markets for approximately $60 per metric ton ($54 per short ton). However, these shipments will not set the price. The U.S. is an infra-marginal coal producer, but the world price is set by the marginal producer which is likely to remain between $90 to $110 per metric ton. As a result, U.S. production will merely replace higher cost production with minimal or no effect on world coal prices. Neither net world coal combustion nor GHG emissions will change as a result of an expansion of U.S. coal exports.

Click chart to enlarge

Source: Energy Information Administration, Macquarie, EPRINC calculations.

Additionally, the coal-fueled power plants being constructed overseas today are far more efficient than those constructed decades ago. Supercritical and Ultra-Supercritical power plants offer improved efficiencies that result in carbon dioxide emission rates that are up to 25 percent below the average of the existing U.S. coal fleet, and more than 40 percent below the oldest plants being replaced. East  Asian nations such as China have taken the lead in building these supercritical units and now house upwards of 60 percent of the world’s developing fleet of advanced power plants. According to the head of the International Energy Agency: “A single, large coal plant, if built with the best-available technology, can reduce emissions by the annual equivalent of taking a million cars off the road compared to the subcritical coal-plant technology still prevalent in most countries.”

CO2 Emissions vs. Net Plant Efficiency

Source: Based on Booras and Holt (2004)

Traditional coal-fueled power plants have also become increasingly clean with respect to sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions. In the United States, coal generates 170 percent more electricity than it did in 1970, but total emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxide have decreased by around 90 percent. Clean coal technologies are already at work to improve coal’s environmental profile.

Clean Coal Works

Source: USDA 2011, EIA 2012, NETL 2011

Read More:


The Economic Value of Coal Exports (EPRINC)

Bipartisan Policy Center Energy Policy Initiative

Particulate Emissions from Coal Trains Report

  • “The fact that we’re no longer in the age of energy scarcity – that we’re in the age of energy abundance – positions the United States in a totally different place. This gives access to affordable, reliable energy in the United States, and gives the U.S. a major competitive advantage.”
    – Dave Banks, Special Assistant to President Donald Trump for International Energy, June 2017
  • “It is in the national interest to promote clean and safe development of our Nation's vast energy resources, while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation. Moreover, the prudent development of these natural resources is essential to ensuring the Nation's geopolitical security.”
    – Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, March 28, 2017
  • “Historically, U.S. companies seeking to expand their revenues focused first on increasing their number and share of U.S customers. For years, this focus served as a winning strategy for many of the most successful U.S. companies. Today, global economic trends make clear that successful companies are those that reach and sell to consumers outside U.S. borders and around the globe.”
    — 2011 National Export Strategy, U.S. Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee
  • “Federal regulatory agencies should not require climate change studies in the course of their permitting processes for proposed facilities. Coal will be consumed around the world regardless of U.S. trade policy. The only question is whether the coal is produced here in North America, where environmental standards are high, or elsewhere.”
    — U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, January 7, 2014
  • “At present 19% of the world’s population, 1.3 billion people, lack access to electricity and on New Policy Scenario projections there will still be 1 billion people without such access in 2030. To meet the UN Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2015, 395 million more people need access to electricity. There is a strong correlation between electrification and improvement in the United Nations’ Human Development Index.”
    — International Energy Agency, Coal Industry Advisory Board
  • “Access to electricity is strongly correlated with every measurable indicator of human development”
    — Berkeley Science Review, 2008

Count on Coal

National Mining Association

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