Thursday, July 13, 2006


Anything but conservation!

Just as the US quietly began importing oil in 1953 without anyone noticing, we're now a coal importer, on the way to becoming a net importer--and that's while continuing to guzzle 1/4th of the world's oil (and on our way to importing 75% of that). 

If we do anything like the shift to coal being proposed in some quarters, we'll bankrupt ourselves on both coal and oil and still not have enough to supply our 52" TVs and heated towel bars.  Apparently _anything_ is better than conserving!


July 10, 2006 edition -

Why coal-rich US is seeing record imports
They've jumped from 9 million tons to 30.5 million tons since 1999, as demand grows for low-sulfur coal.

By Mark Clayton | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

With nearly a quarter of the world's coal supply - enough to last centuries - the United States has been dubbed the "Saudi Arabia of Coal," by US officials and energy experts. [This is a dangerous fiction to build energy policy around.  See "Big Coal" by Jeff Goodell.]

But thanks to growing global coal markets and clean air regulations, the US is witnessing a latter-day equivalent of "carrying coals to Newcastle" - a 230 percent leap in coal imports to the US since 1999.

Coal-fired power plants along the Gulf Coast and East Coast have long imported coal by ship in small amounts. But with transportation costs and the price of low-sulfur coal from central Appalachia and Wyoming rising, US demand is soaring for coal from South America and as far away as Indonesia.

Leaping from 9 million tons to 30.5 million tons in the past six years, US coal imports could jump to 40 million tons this year, government analysts say. And that trend is accelerating as demand for low-sulfur coal grows following last year's federal Clean Air Interstate Rule, a mandate for big cuts in sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants in the eastern US.

At the same time, US coal exports are declining sharply. If present trends continue, the US will be a net importer of coal by 2013, according to the Energy Information Administration of the US Department of Energy. Still, most analysts see little need to worry since vast US reserves mean the US is unlikely to become dependent on overseas coal.

"It's truly an ironic situation with the growth in imports, but in the bigger picture, there's no need to worry," says Richard Bonskowski, a coal analyst at the Energy Information Administration. The US produced more than 1.1 billion tons of coal last year, he says. So the US is importing only 4 percent of US consumption. . . .

Energy security experts say the rapid rise of coal imports is not a big problem, because many other alternatives exist for power generation. Nuclear energy, natural gas, and domestic coal can all substitute if prices for imported coal rise too high.

That's different from the problem of US oil consumption in which the nation each year consumes about a quarter of the global supply, but has only 3 percent of global reserves, says Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington, a think tank focused on energy security issues.

"If we have our back to the wall, we can always fall back on the coal reserves we have here in this country," he says.
[Which doesn't address the fact that the heat value of the western coal is so low.]

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