I’m currently visiting Montana, where the coal industry hopes to mine and export coal to China, to discuss China’s air pollution and coal problems with Montanans concerned about coal mining and export proposals.
I really appreciate that people in these communities have been so engaged and shown their concerns about air pollution in Beijing when I spoke in Billings, Bozeman and Missoula. What was even more exciting is that when I was on the road in Montana, the Chinese government released an action plan for improving air quality which includes a timeline for a significant slowdown in coal consumption in some of China’s biggest coal using provinces.
The action plan covers three key regions includes Jing-Jin-Ji (Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei), the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta. Altogether these provinces cover over a third of China’s total coal use. The action plan also bans the approval of new coal power plants in these regions.
And these provinces are also major coal importing regions, so the action plan will likely reduce Chinese demand for imported coal. The targeted regions under the new plan imported over 100 million tons of coal in 2011, accounting for over 50 percent of China’s total coal imports.
I was so glad to hear this news while visiting the US, and immediately shared the news with people here. This is a major shift in the trend of Chinese coal use, and a very bold move for our air quality and environment. But this news should be heard beyond Montana, since the proposed coal export terminal in Longview, Washington will soon open for public scoping hearings. As Ross MacFarlane writes, ”This issue should concern everyone in the Northwest, not just investors in the coal companies and terminal developers.” Here in US, we can also say no to coal exports to China; the last thing now Chinese people want is US coal.
In addition to the air pollution concerns that will significantly curb coal demand and imports, financial reports have noted several factors pointing toward weakening coal demand in China. Earlier this month, Citi Research published a report, “The Unimaginable: Peak Coal in China” which noted that “significant shifts in China’s economy and power sector are now under way that demand a reassessment of Chinese coal’s perpetual climb.”
And the weak market and plummeting price of coal both in China and globally has already called into question the viability of shipping US coal to China. A report from investment bank Goldman Sachs also concluded that the window for thermal coal investment is closing.
After sharing the news about China’s plan to address air pollution with people here in Montana, I’m hopeful we can work together to stop coal exports and keep coal in the ground.