Friday, October 16th 2015

Much has been made about the decline in American coal consumption, largely the result of price competition from natural gas. While this progress is laudable, unused coal isn’t just sitting in the ground. It’s being mined and shipped to the coasts via rail, then exported via ship to international markets, contributing even more to the environmental impacts of this energy source.

From the Washington PostCapture

A few feet below this prairie town lies one of North America’s biggest coal deposits, a 100-foot-thick slab of brittle black rock spanning an area the size of Rhode Island — nearly all of it owned by the U.S. taxpayer.Just a dozen nearby mines, scattered across a valley known as the Powder River Basin, contain enough coal to meet the country’s electricity needs for decades. But burning all of it would release more than 450 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — more than all greenhouse-gas emissions from all sources since 2000.

The Obama administration is seeking to curb the United States’ appetite for the basin’s coal, which scientists say must remain mostly in the ground to prevent a disastrous warming of the planet. Yet each year, nearly half a billion tons of this U.S.-owned fuel are hauled from the region’s vast strip mines and millions of tons are shipped overseas for other countries to burn. Government and industry reports predict a surge in exports of Powder River coal over the next decade, at a time when climate experts are warning of an urgent need to reduce coal burning to prevent global temperatures from soaring.