"And if American coal starts pouring into China, that will help keep prices down. If that happens, Chinese power plants and factories will burn even more coal and use the stuff less efficiently than they otherwise would." - Brad Plumer
Michael O’Leary has a post “Coal trains wreck their way through the Northwest” on BlueOregon (here) which seeks to stop the shipment of coal from Montana and Wyoming through Oregon and Washington to China. I have made several comments on his post. In search for more info on the coal export issue, I found Brad Plumer’s Wonkblog post “How the U.S. could influence China’s coal habits – with exports" (here):
Coal exports, a favorite topic here at Wonkblog, have become a hot environmental issue of late. Coal use is shrinking in the United States thanks (in part) to cheap natural gas. So coal companies are building terminals in the Pacific Northwest to ship their surplus coal to places like China.
Over at Grist, David Roberts has an excellent overview of this story. Large U.S. mining companies such as Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources have seen their share prices tumble of late. They’re resting their hopes on six new export terminals in Oregon and Washington, which, once built, will enable the Pacific Northwest to ship more than 150 million tons of coal to Asia. In essence, we’d be exporting our carbon pollution overseas. So, to prevent that, environmentalists are trying to bog these projects down. And they’re gaining momentum: Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D), for one, has called for a full review of the terminals.
So here’s a question: Would blocking these export terminals have any impact on the staggering growth in coal use in places such as China? Actually, yes: There’s some evidence that it could matter a fair bit at the margins……
.... And if American coal starts pouring into China, that will help keep prices down. If that happens, Chinese power plants and factories will burn even more coal and use the stuff less efficiently than they otherwise would. Grist’s David Roberts points to a recent paper (pdf) by Thomas M. Power, a former economics professor at the University of Montana, finding that Chinese coal habits are highly sensitive to prices:
Opening the Asian import market to dramatic increases in U.S. coal will drive down coal prices in that market. Several empirical studies of energy in China have demonstrated that coal consumption is highly sensitive to cost. One recent study found that a 10 percent reduction in coal cost would result in a 12 percent increase in coal consumption. Another found that over half of the gain in China’s “energy intensity” improvement during the 1990s was a response to prices. In other words, coal exports will mean cheaper coal in Asia, and cheaper coal means more coal will be burned than would otherwise be the case....
If Power and Plumer are right (a big "if") that we can influence China's use of coal by increasing the price of coal,then stopping the flow of coal through Oregon and Washington may make sense in a effort to reduce global warming and the flow of mercury and other toxic chemicals from China to Oregon.