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Environmentalists have something to cheer about: No new coal plants have come on line in the U.S. in almost two years. However, U.S. coal exports to Asia during the first six months of this year increased by almost 400 percent compared to last year, according to a recent AlterNet.org article.
U.S. holds 30 percent of the world’s coal reserves, according to a 2007 report by Energy Watch Group (EWG). China is the biggest coal producer, but only has half the reserves that the U.S. possesses. The fastest reserves depletion is occurring in China. In fact, China depletes its reserves at an annual rate of almost two percent, and at that rate, its reserves will be depleted in 50 years.
China’s coal imports more than tripled last year from 2008, a China Daily article reported in February, citing Chinese government data. During the period from April to June 2010, China coking coal imports from the U.S. increased by 1.2 million tons, according to Energy Information Administration (EIA) data, representing five percent of the 22 million tons of coal exported during that quarter. During same period last year, China only imported 2,500 tons.
Although the U.S. passed peak production of coal in the Appalachian Mountains, production of coal in states like Wyoming has not peaked. Three states (Illinois, Wyoming and Montana) have 60 percent of U.S. reserves. Wyoming alone has almost 68,700,000,000 tons of coal, the third largest coal reserves in the U.S.
Washington’s Cowlitz County commissioners voted recently to allow Ambre Energy North America, a subsidiary of Australian company Ambre Energy, to build a coal export terminal. It will be the first major U.S. export terminal for coal on the West Coast.
Ambre Energy’s website proclaims that it has “built up a formidable skill base to identify and evaluate suitable available assets – both operating mines and development sites.” The site identifies the Powder River basin, which straddles Wyoming and Montana, as the “most prospective area.”
“Given U.S. coal resources and the absence of a real clean economy policy strategy from Washington, the U.S. could easily wind up simply auctioning off our mineral wealth to China while losing the chance to become the world’s leading exporter of high-tech, Made-in-the-USA, clean energy technologies,” said Jesse Jenkins, director of climate and energy policy at the Breakthrough Institute, a California-based think tank.