US Coal Exports Boomed During Trump’s First Months In Office


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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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U.S. coal exports were nearly 60 percent higher in the first three months of the Trump administration than at the same time last year, according to federal data.

It’s good news for the coal industry, which is one of President Donald Trump’s favored constituencies. Declining exports in the final years of the Obama administration was a major thorn in the industry’s side, but now economics and some political factors have collided to give the industry some breathing room.

Coal companies exported more than 22 million short tons of steam and metallurgical coal between January and March 2017, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported Tuesday. Asia and Europe saw the biggest increases in U.S. coal imports from last year.

EIA projects “coal exports to slow in the coming months, with total 2017 exports forecast at 72 [million short tons (MMst)], 11 MMst (19%) higher than the 2016 level.” The boom in coal exports started in October 2016 as prices increased.

Some of the biggest customers for U.S. coal were China and Japan. China saw its coal imports grow from more than 123,000 short tons in the first quarter of 2016 to nearly 736,000 short tons this year.

China is using more U.S. coal to fuel its steel industry in lieu of North Korean coal being targeted by the U.S. and other powers. Chinese officials forced North Korean coal tankers to turn home in April the day after President Donald Trump authorized an airstrike on Syrian air bases.

Japan is using more U.S. coal to replace nuclear power after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011. Coal is much cheaper than natural gas, despite Japan’s promising to cut greenhouse gas emissions as part of the Paris climate accord. Japan has plans to build 45 new coal plants in the coming years.

South Korea has also drastically increased its reliance on U.S. coal. The country nearly doubled its coal imports from 1.1 million short tons in early 2016 to 2.1 million short tons in early 2017, according to EIA data.

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