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Tue Dec 4, 2012, 05:56 PM

Carbon-Addicted U.S. Shifts from User to Pusher While Repudiating Renewable Energy Solutions

...In the U.S., the world’s second largest coal user, consumption has fallen drastically in the last couple of years, due to a combination of stricter pollution controls and cheaper alternative fuels—especially gas, but increasingly renewable energy. Coal’s share of total electricity generation in the U.S. dropped from 49 percent in 2007 to 37 percent in September 2012. More than 10 gigawatts (GW) of coal capacity was retired between 2007 and April 2012, and another 267 units with 47 GW of capacity will retire before 2020, and many utilities predict a further decline of U.S. coal use in subsequent decades.

That’s not the end of the story though, as the coal industry has reacted to the loss of domestic markets by looking overseas. It wants to extract resources especially from the Powder River Basin in southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming, and export to Asia via the Pacific Northwest. Several proposals for infrastructure expansion including ports and railway lines have been tabled, that would enable coal from the Basin to be shipped to the Pacific with trains and barges, initially for around 131 million tonnes (145 million short tons) per year, and could open the door to much higher volumes.

In spite of the looming fiscal cliff, the export projects continue to receive government largesse: the coal industry has access to taxpayer-owned lands for extremely low cost, due to favorable land leasing process. This is combined with rail and port subsidies, regulatory leniency and at least billions of tax breaks. In short, the carbon-addicted U.S. is gradually shifting from user to pusher.

Aggressive U.S. coal export expansion planned by the industry, supported by the government, would cancel out, and potentially outweigh, the emissions reductions from domestic coal burning—because the atmosphere does not care where the carbon is emitted. This is set to become one of the major environmental issues of the second Obama administration. “Even if he does implement strong carbon policy at home, President Obama stands to fail the world on climate if he allows a massive export of federally-owned coal,” said Kyle Ash, senior legislative representative for Greenpeace USA.
via http://ecowatch.org/2012/carbon-addicted-us-becomes-pusher/

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