U.S. coal exports to Europe skyrocket

| Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, 9:51 p.m.

JAENSCHWALDE, Germany — Europe has a secret: It is burning a lot more coal.

Europe's use of the fossil fuel spiked last year after a long decline, powered by a surge of cheap U.S. coal on global markets.

The new dependence on one of the dirtiest fuels shows just how challenging it is to maintain the momentum needed to go green, analysts and officials say, and shows the far-reaching effects of America's natural gas boom.

In the United States, natural gas is frequently less expensive than coal, so demand for the hard, black fuel has plummeted. Ships are steaming the coal around the world instead. U.S. coal exports to Europe were up 26 percent in the first nine months of 2012 over the same period in 2011. Exports to China have increased, too.

“It's been very welcome that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have been going down because of the switch to gas,” said David Baldock, executive director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy in London. “But if we're simply diverting the coal somewhere else, particularly to Europe, a lot of those benefits are draining away.”

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