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US Coal Industry, Target Of Obama Rules, Expands Exports

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Wendy Koch, USA Today

While President Obama aims to crack down on coal-fired power plants, the coal industry finds lucrative and booming markets abroad, even in developed countries such as Germany and Japan.

The U.S. coal industry, under increasing pressure at home after President Obama’s call Tuesday for tougher anti-pollution rules, is ratcheting up a more promising part of its business: exports.

Coal exports set a monthly record in March, driven largely by rising demand from its top customer, China, and other Asian countries, according to the most recent data from the Energy information Administration. While domestic consumption has had recent dips, exports have steadily climbed — from 39.6 million short tons in 2002 to a record 125.7 million short tons last year.

“Many coal producers are looking offshore as a way to offset softer markets in the United States,” says Luke Popovich, spokesman of the National Mining Association. He says U.S. demand for coal has dipped because of relatively low natural gas prices and electric use, but he expects it will rise again. He says federal regulations on coal-fired power plants are “a more lingering problem.”

Popovich says Obama’s new proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. coal-fired power plants will do little to help the climate, because increasing amounts of coal are being burned worldwide.

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