Coal exports soar

WASHINGTON/LONDON – US coal exports have jumped more than 60 per cent this year because of soaring demand from Europe and Asia, according to a Reuters review of government data, allowing President Donald Trump’s administration to claim that efforts to revive the battered industry are working.

The increased shipments came as the European Union and other US allies heaped criticism on the Trump administration for its rejection of the Paris Climate Accord, a deal agreed by nearly 200 countries to cut carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels like coal.

The previously unpublished figures provided to Reuters by the US Energy Information Administration showed exports of the fuel from January through May totaled 36.79 million tons, up 60.3 per cent from 22.94m tons in the same period in 2016.

While reflecting a bounce from 2016, the shipments remained well below volumes recorded in equivalent periods the previous five years.

They included a surge to several European countries during the 2017 period, including a 175 per cent increase in shipments to the United Kingdom, and a doubling to France — which had suffered a series of nuclear power plant outages that required it and regional neighbors to rely more heavily on coal.

“If Europe wants to lecture Mr Trump on climate then EU member states need transition plans to phase out polluting coal,” said Laurence Watson, a data scientist working on coal at independent think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative in London.

Nicole Bockstaller, a spokeswoman at the EU Commission’s Energy and Climate Action department, said that the EU’s coal imports had generally been on a downward trend since 2006, albeit with seasonable variations like high demand during cold snaps in the winter.

Overall exports to European nations totaled 16m tons in the first five months of this year, up from 10.5m in the same period last year, according to the figures.

Exports to Asia meanwhile, totaled 12.3m tons, compared to 6.2m tons in the year-earlier period.

Both the coal industry and the Trump administration said the rising exports of both steam coal, used to generate electricity, and metallurgical coal, used in heavy industry, were evidence that Mr Trump’s agenda was having a positive impact.

“Simply to know that coal no longer has to fight the government — that has to have some effect on investment decisions and in the outlook by companies, producers and utilities that use coal,” said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association.

Shaylyn Hynes, a spokeswoman at the US Energy Department, said: “These numbers clearly show that the Trump Administration’s policies are helping to revive an industry that was the target of costly and job-killing overregulation from Washington for far too long.”

Efforts to obtain comment from exporters Arch Coal and privately held Murray Energy Corp were unsuccessful.

Contura Energy, which emerged as part of Alpha Natural Resource’s bankruptcy and restructuring, and filed for public offering in May, declined to comment.

A spokesman for Peabody Energy, the largest coal producer, though without a major export profile, said the US was generally a “swing supplier of seaborne coal.”

US Energy Information Administration analyst Elias Johnson said the US coal industry may now be better positioned to meet foreign demand because US miners had learned to produce at lower cost, after coming through a series of recent bankruptcies.

“There’s the possibility that the US will become more of a primary player in the global coal trade market,” he said.

But he added there were also plenty of reasons the spike in demand could be temporary.

For one thing, US coal production and transportation costs were much higher than for other producers such as Indonesia and Australia.

Because coal can often be transhipped from European ports before it is consumed, it is also hard to determine where shipments ultimately end up.

Mr Johnson pointed out that some of the fuel shipped into Western Europe, for example, could be making its way to other places like Ukraine, which is having trouble securing coal from its separatist-held regions.

Mr Trump said last month that his administration is offering more coal to Ukraine, but it was unclear how, given deals are typically worked out between companies.

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