Reduce Global Emissions by Leveraging American Coal

The struggle to find new and innovative solutions to curb global greenhouse gas emissions has plagued the environmental community for years. Those whose first priority is to address climate change are constantly looking for outside-the-box ideas to address this issue. But what many don’t realize is that the answer isn’t that novel at all. In fact, the solution is a well-known proposal from the very people who are actually accused of exacerbating the problem.

The answer: exporting U.S. coal.  While some may immediately be skeptical at the thought of shipping coal for further use, by making this commodity available to Asian trading partners we could actually aid in efforts to reduce global greenhouse emissions. In fact, Washington’s Department of Ecology recently confirmed in an environmental impact statement that one proposed export terminal would do just that.

“It may seem counter-intuitive, but building the proposed coal-exporting shipping terminal, Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview facility, can reduce global greenhouse gases by making U.S. coal readily available to Asia,” Millennium Bulk Terminals CEO Bill Chapman recently wrote in a piece on Crosscut. “The state Department of Ecology’s final environmental impact statement for the Millennium coal export facility validates this point. Unfortunately, the details were buried in the appendices, where most people wouldn’t look.”

Currently, long time US (and Washington) trading partners like Japan and South Korea rely heavily on coal from Indonesia to power their economies and maintain national security. The lifecycle of mining, transporting, and burning coal from Indonesia and elsewhere in Japan and South Korea emits far more carbon emissions than that of American coal – 63.54 million metric tons to be exact. Despite this and the fact that Millennium meets all local, state, and federal environmental standards, the Washington Department of Ecology still withheld an essential project permit. Head-scratching decisions such as this are why Millennium has surpassed six years in the permitting process.

In addition to Millennium meeting all US environmental standards, the countries the terminal would export to continue to meet global environmental standards put forth in the Paris Climate Accords. Japan and South Korea certified the accords, signed follow-up agreements, and have continued to meet the established environmental goals. While accomplishing this, the two countries have prepared themselves to be long-term consumers of coal.

As Chapman notes, Japan and South Korea are “building low-emissions coal-powered energy plants for electricity” to meet their economic and national security needs. The Powder River Basin coal that Millennium would ship is the ideal source since it “is lower in ash, sulfur and mercury than equivalent alternatives Japan and South Korea are buying from Indonesia.” In fact, “Japan has specifically identified Powder River coal as having the quality characteristics that are desirable for Japan’s next generation of high efficiency, low emissions coal-fired power plants.”

It’s not just Asian commitment to coal that confirm its longevity. Chapman reminds us in his piece that “coal is the fuel source for over 40 percent of the world’s electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and it is expected to hold the position of second largest energy source worldwide for more than a decade.” In another sign of coal’s lasting vitality, Reuters reported that “U.S. coal exports to Asia hit a record high in December of 2017, mostly via Canadian ports.”

With the right infrastructure, Washington ports (and the workers here in our state who would support them) can become the beneficiary of this valuable international trade. The Millennium Bulk Terminals project would support thousands of jobs, promote trade with allies overseas, and result in a cleaner environment. Washington cannot afford to continue suffering from arbitrary regulatory setbacks that deprive prosperity.