The CEO of Cloud Peak Energy, the U.S.’s third-largest coal producer, expects a record year for coal exports, but says the small boom has little to due with President Donald Trump’s policies.
“There is already a revival in exports compared to this time last year, but that wasn’t due to Trump,” Colin Marshall told Axios in an interview, attributing export growth to increasing demand in China and South Korea.
International demand for coal is poised to increase even more now that China has stopped buying coal from North Korea to fuel its steel industry.
China caved to U.S. pressure in November to stop taking coal from North Korean’s despotic regime. U.S. officials argued China’s coal imports were helping fund dictator Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons program.
That helped, but Marshall is downplaying a recent action by the Trump administration that will likely increase U.S. coal exports.
Beijing cut off coal imports in February, and Reuters reported Chinese customs officials sent back a dozen North Korean cargo ships loaded with coal to their home ports the day after Trump launched a missile strike against Syria’s Assad regime.
Leading up to the strike, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley criticized China for not fully enforcing sanctions, arguing China was still importing North Korean coal.
Cloud Peak expects to export 5 million short tons of coal this year, up from 600,000 tons in 2016. The company mines Powder River Basin coal in the Western U.S., which is easier to get to Asian markets.
“Trump said he’d be good for coal, and I don’t think he meant N. Korean coal,” Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association, told The Washington Examiner.
Coal exports to China are by no means a panacea to the industry’s woes. Coal will still have to compete with low natural gas prices and comply with state and federal regulations.
Trump signed executive orders to rescind several major regulations on coal producers and power plants, but federal environmental regulations still on the books have cost the industry billions of dollars in compliance costs.
Axios’ Amy Harder put a damper on Marshall’s outlook for the coal industry, writing “a sustained expansion of such exports is unlikely because most proposals for new coastal terminals to export the product, especially in the Northwest, have failed to come online due to local opposition and financial woes of companies involved.”
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