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Coal exports contradict Obama's climate pledge

By Lynne Peeples
Huffington Post

"Climate Solutions' Macfarlane said the industry's aggressive offense still faces a hard-hitting defense: a "perfect storm" of public outcry, significant legal challenges and collapsing global markets”

Environmental experts who remain unimpressed with President Barack Obama's war-on-carbon rhetoric point to one key reason for concern that's off most Americans' radar: U.S. coal exports.

A push to expand coal mining operations in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming, and to build three ports in Oregon and Washington to ship the fuel to Asia, could create more national and global environmental impact than a Canadian company's proposal to ferry Albertan tar sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast via the Keystone XL pipeline. Yet these remote projects are not getting the attention they deserve, critics suggest, and they fear Obama may be overlooking, apathetic to, or even supportive of them.

"If we were serious about doing something about global warming, the federal government certainly wouldn't be talking about controlling the burning of coal in the U.S. on the one hand while encouraging the export of coal to the rest of the world to be burned," said Thomas M. Power, research professor and professor emeritus of economics at the University of Montana in Missoula.

"There's certainly a contradiction there," he added, "where the left hand doesn't know, or pretends it doesn't know, what the right hand is doing."

The centerpiece of the climate plan Obama unveiled in June was a pledge to reign in the global-warming emissions of U.S. coal-fired power plants. Experts predict tightening controls will end up closing more plants and further troubling the U.S. coal industry, which experienced significant declines during Obama's first term.

However, U.S. coal exports during that same time more than doubled, according to a June report from the Department of Energy.

"Companies are investing in this Hail Mary pass, trying to get their coal onto ships and over to Asian markets," said Ross Macfarlane of the non-profit Climate Solutions. "They see nothing but declining demand and usage here in the U.S."

China reportedly plans to double its coal imports over the next three years, and efforts on the part of Korea and Japan are expected to follow close behind.

Experts argue that coal burned in Asia contributes just as much to global climate change as coal burned in Alabama. And it's the same climate change that scientists suggest may spur more frequent Sandy-like storms and heat waves here in the U.S.

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