By Angela Garrone, Esq.
What has long been thought of as an energy issue primarily affecting the Pacific Northwest is now making its way to the Southeast: coal exportation. While the exportation of coal out of Southeastern ports is nothing new, all signs appear to point to a dramatic increase of coal traffic out of Southeastern export terminals over the next decade.
As highlighted in an earlier blog, the combination of lower gas prices and stricter environmental regulations have led many American utilities to begin decreasing their dependence on coal as a source of domestic electric generation. With natural gas prices expected to stay low throughout 2013, the amount of coal exported from the U.S. is anticipated to grow given current trends.
As exportation becomes a more popular choice for coal producers looking to sell their excess coal on the international market, it will become more important for the public to be aware and environmental advocates to educate themselves about the impacts that exporting coal will have on our region from fugitive dust and a displaced carbon footprint. Ultimately, it seems, we may simply be playing a climate shell game as we cut our coal usage and carbon emissions here in the U.S., only to ship that fuel overseas where it gets burned anyway and added to the global carbon emission budget.
As more U.S. utilities switch from coal to alternative forms of energy generation, the amount of coal exported by the U.S. is expected to rise. Natural gas prices are a predominant driver in this trend, but while prices are comparatively inexpensive in the U.S., they are considerably more expensive than coal in many other countries. Analysts predict that coal prices would have to rise in Europe by roughly $80 per metric ton before natural gas could become price competitive. This discrepancy between national and international natural gas prices, along with the increased industrialization of countries like China and India, accounts for the increasing demand of U.S. coal exports.
The International Energy Agency’s 2011 World Energy Outlook predicts that China will be using 70 percent more energy than the U.S. by 2035 (despite the fact that China’s per capita demand at that time will likely be less than half of that in the U.S.). As a whole, Asia is projected to use an additional billion tons of coal each year by 2016, with China adding almost 160 new coal plants and India adding almost 70. As a result, U.S. exports of coal are predicted to rise over the coming decade as coal consumption decreases in the U.S. Exports in 2012 reached 125 million tons, an amount well beyond the previous record of 113 million tons set in 1981. The more coal being exported each year, the more coal exportation terminals will need to be developed in order to meet growing capacity.
Currently, there are numerous fights being waged in the Pacific Northwest to combat expansion of their coal export terminals–residents are most significantly concerned about the increase in train transportation, which creates fugitive coal dust–a dangerous source of air pollution. In light of the controversy surrounding export terminals in the Northwest, coal companies nationally are hedging their bets and pursuing construction/expansion of terminals in the Southeast to ensure their coal can make its way to international markets. Although no clear connection can be made between a specific coal terminal plan in the Southeast and the delay of terminals in the Pacific Northwest, it is clear that one way or another coal companies are going to find a way to ship their coal overseas.
In 2012, there were some major announcements to expand export capacity in the Gulf Coast. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners announced plans to invest approximately $400 million to expand its Gulf Coast terminal network. Storage company Oiltanking announced it would be developing a new export terminal for coal and pet coke in Port Sulphur, Louisiana and, depending on demand, the terminal could handle 10 million short tons annually.
In July 2012, Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, announced that it would begin using ports in Houston and New Orleans to ship Colorado Powder River Basin coal to international markets. Peabody’s planned expansion would more than double its export capacity along the Gulf Coast–between 5 million and 7 million tons annually from 2014 to 2020. Most of this particular coal is bound for Peabody’s European markets. As part of their Gulf Coast expansion, Peabody has an agreement with Union Pacific Railroad to transport coal from its Colorado mines to its Houston terminals.
The surge in U.S. coal exports is unsettling and should be getting more attention from the public at large and the environmental community in particular. Along with increased air pollution from the transport of coal cross-country in the form of fugitive coal dust, the increase of U.S. coal exports presents us with a philosophical and climate dilemma: even if the U.S. greatly decreases its own dependence on coal generated electricity, is it fair to say that we are actually reducing our carbon footprint if we simply play a shell game by sending coal overseas to supply international coal plants?
We must recognize that in increasing exportation of our domestic coal, the U.S. is actually just exporting its carbon footprint along with its coal. Instead of focusing energy and resources to expand our coal export infrastructure, the U.S. should be concentrating on building our own renewable energy generation resources and implementing robust energy efficiency measures. As long as the U.S. is meeting the international demand for coal, and international natural gas prices remain high, our citizens and environment will continue to see destructive mining practices, like mountaintop removal coal mining, and we will be no closer to lowering global carbon emissions and reducing the destructive impacts of climate change.
Visit EcoWatch’s COAL EXPORTS page for more related news on this topic.
Ulla Reeves, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s regional program director edited and contributed to this post.
Environmental officials and members of the U.S. Coast Guard are racing to clean up a mysterious oil spill that has spread to 11 miles of Delaware coastline.
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By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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Plain Naturals is making waves in the CBD space with a new product line for retail customers looking for high potency CBD products at industry-low prices.
Is More CBD Really Better?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2ODQyNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzYxMDMzN30.6B08i5QYW_Iq5bUf3qtm8oK8o6FKsRUZ74gdakgJ_TY/img.jpg?width=980" id="0ef5b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bac86abf3ce246742b18b0dc4052f4dd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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The Truth About CBD Product Potency<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2ODMyNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDc2NTg1N30.OAm3iOTO_pKZLXi7KdJ7n0DGOFMdOmIYuG4ArGooFC4/img.jpg?width=980" id="d657c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee016a81b29caa699b9185b64ce345d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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Towards the end of the final presidential debate of the 2020 election season, the moderator asked both candidates how they would address both the climate crisis and job growth, leading to a nearly 12-minute discussion where Donald Trump did not acknowledge that the climate is changing and Joe Biden called the climate crisis an existential threat.
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By Zheng Chen and Darren H. S. Tan
As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing. And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.