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Earth Power Hardware

As US Cleans Its Energy Mix, It Ships Coal Problems Overseas 275

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Thomas K. Grose reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that greenhouse gas emissions in the US have fallen 8 percent from their 2007 peak to 6,703 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, due largely to the drop in coal-fired electricity which in 2012 generated 37.4 percent of US electricity, down from 50 percent in 2005. But don't celebrate just yet. A major side effect of that cleaner air in the US has been the further darkening of skies over Europe and Asia as US coal producers have been shipping the most carbon-intensive fuel to energy-hungry markets overseas. US coal exports to China were on track to double last year and demand for US metallurgical coal, the high-heat content coking coal that is used for steelmaking, is so great in Asia that shipments make a round-the-world journey from Appalachia as they are sent by train to the port of Baltimore, where they steam to sea through the Chesapeake Bay, then south across the Atlantic Ocean and around Africa's Cape of Good Hope to reach Asian ports. The Tyndall Center study estimates that the burning of all that exported coal could erase fully half the gains the United States has made in reducing carbon emissions and if the trend continues, the dramatic changes in energy use in the United States — in particular, the switch from coal to newly abundant natural gas for generating electricity — will have only a modest impact on global warming, observers warn. 'Without a meaningful cap on global carbon emissions, the exploitation of shale gas reserves is likely to increase total emissions,' write Dr John Broderick and Prof Kevin Anderson. 'For this not to be the case, consumption of displaced fuels must be reduced globally and remain suppressed indefinitely; in effect displaced coal must stay in the ground (PDF).'"
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As US Cleans Its Energy Mix, It Ships Coal Problems Overseas

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  • by Isca ( 550291 ) on Monday March 18, 2013 @09:09AM (#43202331)
    It's not being used for electricity. We hardly make any steel here anymore. Most of it is made in Asia anymore. We have the infrastructure to mine it and ship it out. If it wasn't done here it would be done elsewhere at a slightly higher cost. It has nothing to do with electrical production, it's not used for that. In fact, it's almost twice the cost of other coal per ton so no one would WANT to use it.
  • Re:But it's okay (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 18, 2013 @09:19AM (#43202393)

    The US Gov't did not sign the Kyoto treaty...

  • Yes, I noticed this as well, and it makes the summary rather misleading.

    I think there is a concern with "pollution outsourcing", where countries claim to be getting cleaner but they do it just by outsourcing the polluting activities, rather than cleaning them up. This is the case with some European manufacturing firms, for example, which claim to be green... if you only count their within-EU manufacturing activities. You could imagine a similar shift where U.S. energy production gets cleaner just by moving the pollution around, so the same coal gets burned for power, just elsewhere. Then it would be legitimate to question whether there are any real environmental gains happening in such a scenario.

    But what's happening here is a little different. It's not economically sensible to ship regular, lower-grade coal for producing electricity all around the world. Coal is extremely bulky and the value per ton of low-grade coal is so low that it doesn't pay off to ship it to China. Especially when China has plenty of its own low-grade coal. What does make economic sense to ship is high-end coal for metallurgy, which is more of a specialty material.

  • Re:NIMBY... (Score:2, Informative)

    by jythie ( 914043 ) on Monday March 18, 2013 @09:46AM (#43202519)
    On the other hand, your home owner's insurance costs jump significantly. Living near a nuclear plant is surprisingly expensive.
  • It's not being used for electricity. We hardly make any steel here anymore.

    We made a million tons of steel last week... 18 million tons year-to-date. In 2012, we made 5.7% of the worlds steel (88 million tons) - putting us in third place (behind China and Japan) overall. The only European country in the top ten is Germany - which clocks in at #7 with approximately 2%. (Most of the worlds steel is made in Asia and Russia/CIS.)
    So, yeah, US steel production is a long way down from it's peak, but it's gross ignorance to say we make 'hardly any'.

  • Relevent (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 18, 2013 @10:23AM (#43202811)
    You would be getting less radiation in the pool than where you are now. Oblig: Spent Fuel Pool [xkcd.com]
  • Re:NIMBY... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 18, 2013 @10:27AM (#43202851)
    Bullshit. I live less than 5 miles from the oldest active nuclear plant in the country, and it has absolutely no effect on homeowner's insurance rates. You know what does? Having a pool with a diving board or a trampoline.
  • Re:Always (Score:4, Informative)

    by daem0n1x ( 748565 ) on Monday March 18, 2013 @11:43AM (#43203573)

    Frankly, I don't think most folks outside of the U.S. pay much attention to us or cares...unless Obama is shooting a missile up their butts.

    Actually, you're quite wrong. The rest of the world is a lot more aware of what happens in the US than the opposite.

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