China Rescues U.S. Coal Industry

Thursday, December 02, 2010
Coal pit in Powder River Basin (photo: Sierra Club)
Coal is becoming an increasingly unpopular source of energy in the United States because of its danger to workers and to the environment. But the Chinese government considers these factors irrelevant. And so, China is poised to become a big investor in the economies of Wyoming and Montana. These two states sit atop the Powder River Basin, home to an estimated 800 billion tons of coal, or 20% of America’s total supply of the fossil fuel. With China having switched from being a coal exporter to a coal importer, due to its voracious energy appetite, the Asian giant is looking to buy lots of the non-renewable energy source and ship it across the Pacific.
Whereas the U.S. hasn’t built a single coal-fired plant in almost two full years, China is constructing them at a pace of almost two a week. But the Chinese coal reserves are dwindling, and the government is already buying whatever it can from Australia, which can’t even begin to meet the demand. Thus, enter Wyoming and Montana into the situation.
Although community organizers are wary of the deal, the main problem standing in the way of selling coal from these states to China is the lack of coal-capable ports along the West Coast. Currently, the majority of coal exports from North America are being shipped out through a single facility in Vancouver, Canada.
So don’t be surprised if in the near future there’s talk about expanding port facilities in either Washington, Oregon or California to accommodate the long lines of rail cars being loaded with Montana’s and Wyoming’s coal, bound for China.
-Noel Brinkerhoff


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