U.S. coal exports undermine energy efforts, experts say
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — As the Obama administration weans the United States off dirty fuels blamed for global warming, energy companies send more of America's unwanted energy leftovers to other parts of the world where they could cause more pollution.
This fossil fuel trade threatens to undermine President Obama's strategy for reducing the gases blamed for climate change, and it reveals a seldom-discussed side effect of countries acting alone on a global problem. The contribution of this exported pollution to global warming is not something the administration wants to measure or talk about.
“This is the single biggest flaw in U.S. climate policy,” said Roger Martella, the former general counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. “Although the administration is moving forward with climate change regulations at home, we don't consider how policy decisions in the United States impact greenhouse gas emissions in other parts of the world.”
During the past six years, American energy companies have sent more coal than ever to other parts of the world, in some cases to places with lax environmental standards.
The consequence: This global shell game makes the United States appear to be making more progress than it is on global warming. That's because it shifts some pollution — and the burden for cleaning it up — onto other countries' balance sheets.
“Energy exports, bit by bit, are chipping away at gains we are making on carbon dioxide domestically,” said Shakeb Afsah, an economist who runs an energy consulting firm in Bethesda, Md.
As companies look to double America's coal exports, with three new terminals along the West Coast, the United States could be fueling demand for coal.
The administration has resisted calls from governors in Washington and Oregon to evaluate and disclose such global fallout, saying that if the United States didn't supply the coal, another country would.