US cleans up at home, sends coal abroad


By Dina Cappiello ,AP

NEWPORT NEWS, Virginia — As the Obama administration weans the U.S. off dirty fuels blamed for global warming, energy companies have been sending more of America’s unwanted energy leftovers to other parts of the world where they could create even more pollution.

This fossil fuel trade threatens to undermine President Barack Obama’s strategy for reducing the gases blamed for climate change and reveals a little-discussed side effect of countries acting alone on a global problem.

“This is the single biggest flaw in U.S. climate policy,” said Roger Martella, the former general counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. “Although the administration is moving forward with climate change regulations at home, we don’t consider how policy decisions in the United States impact greenhouse gas emissions in other parts of the world.”

Carbon dioxide, regardless of where it enters the atmosphere, contributes to the sea level rise and in some cases severe weather in the U.S. and the world.

Over the past six years, American energy companies have sent more coal than ever before to other parts of the world, in some cases to places with looser environmental standards.

The consequence: It makes the U.S. appear to be making more progress than it is on global warming. That’s because it shifts some pollution — and the burden for cleaning it up — onto other countries.

“Energy exports bit by bit are chipping away at gains we are making on carbon dioxide domestically,” said Shakeb Afsah, an economist who runs an energy consulting firm.

As companies look to double U.S. coal exports, with three new terminals along the West Coast, America could be fueling demand for coal when many experts say most fossil fuels should remain buried to avert the most disastrous effects of climate change.

But the Obama administration has resisted calls from governors in Washington and Oregon to evaluate and disclose such global fallout, saying that if the U.S. didn’t supply the coal, another country would.

White House officials say U.S. coal has a negligible global footprint and reducing coal’s use worldwide is the best way to ease global warming. The U.S. in 2012 accounted for 9 percent of worldwide coal exports, the latest data available.