Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Governors Cite Climate Change for Coal Export Review

It's hard to imagine this happening even five years ago: the governors of Oregon and Washington have cited climate change as a reason for the federal government to more closely examine the proposed export of Powder River basin coal through the Pacific Northwest and onto China.

In a letter to the President's Council on Environmental Quality, John Kitzhaber (D-OR) and Jay Inslee (D-WA) wrote:
Increasing levels of greenhouse gases and other pollutants resulting from the burning of coal, including pollutants other than CO2, are imposing direct costs on people, businesses and communities in the U.S. and around the world. These costs include the public health costs of increased atmospheric deposition of mercury in drinking water sources, as well as costs resulting from ocean acidification, rising sea levels, wildfires, and shrinking snow packs that are key sources of water for the western U.S....

We believe the federal government must examine the true costs of long-term commitments tosupply coal from federal lands for energy production, whether that production occurs domestically or in Asia. We cannot seriously take the position in international and national policymaking that we are a leader in controlling greenhouse gas emissions without alsoexamining how we will use and price the world's largest proven coal reserves.
coal consumption China 1990 2009Carbon dioxide emissions from the exported coal would total about 250 million tonnes a year.

They also scolded the government for giving the coal away cheaply:
As the major owner of coal reserves in the western U.S., the federal government must consider whether it has appropriately priced the coal leases that it continues to grant, including the practice of granting non-competitive leases. Senators Ron Wyden and Lisa Murkowski recently asked the U.S. Department of the Interior for information concerning alleged industry practicesusing in-house trading affiliates to avoid paying royalties that reflect actual export sales. These issues raise significant concerns that we are subsidizing the export of coal at the same time we are winding down domestic consumption due to serious environmental and health concerns.
These proposed coal exports, which are very controversial here -- the Northwest's equivalent of the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline -- are about one thing: coal companies looking at declining U.S. coal consumption and seeing how they can keep their profits up.

U.S. coal production recently dropped below the milestone mark of 1,000,000 K short tons annually, and on a per capita basis has dropped 20% from its peak in just six years:

U.S. per capita coal production (short tons/yr)

(A short ton is the old 2,000 lbs = 0.908 metric tons. When the hell is the U.S. finally going to get with the rest of the entire world on this?)

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