Cal­i­for­nia’s anti-coal law sym­bolic of global en­ergy dilemma

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - Con­tact the writer at williamhen­nelly@ chi­nadai­

Coal is not king in en­vi­ron­men­tally vig­i­lant Cal­i­for­nia. Gov­er­nor Jerry Brown on Aug 26 signed into law SB-1279, which blocks the use of state funds at coal-ship­ping ter­mi­nals.

“In Cal­i­for­nia, we’re di­vest­ing from ther­mal coal in our state pen­sions, shift­ing to re­new­able en­ergy and, last year, coal ex­ports from Cal­i­for­nia ports de­clined by more than onethird, from 4.65 mil­lion to 2.96 mil­lion tons,” the gov­er­nor said in a state­ment on the bill’s sign­ing. “That’s a pos­i­tive trend we need to build on.”

State Sen­a­tor Loni Han­cock, a Demo­crat from Berke­ley, in­tro­duced the bill in Fe­bru­ary in re­sponse to plans to ship coal from a ter­mi­nal in Oak­land. Other com­modi­ties to be shipped from the site in­clude soda ash, po­tash, lime­stone and soy­beans.

SB-1279 bars the state Trans­porta­tion Com­mis­sion from pro­vid­ing funds to new bulk-coal ter­mi­nals. It will take ef­fect in Jan­uary, but does not ap­ply to ex­ist­ing projects.

In the US, as in China, bal­anc­ing en­ergy needs with en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns has eco­nomic con­se­quences.

In June, the Oak­land City Coun­cil voted to ban the ship­ping and han­dling of coal and coke in the city, cast­ing doubt on the fu­ture and job-cre­ation prospects of the har­bor ter­mi­nal where coal would be ex­ported.

Most of that US coal is bound for Asia, par­tic­u­larly China, which gets 70 per­cent of its en­ergy from coal. As de­mand for coal falls in the United States, West­ern states are look­ing to ex­port to Asia.

De­vel­oper Phil Tagami, a friend and sup­porter of the gov­er­nor, is build­ing the $250 mil­lion ex­port ter­mi­nal and lo­gis­tics cen­ter called the Oak­land Bulk and Over­sized Ter­mi­nal on 130 acres of a for­mer Army base at the Outer Har­bor.

Oak­land re­jected the coal plan on June 27 af­ter a report by its en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tant con­cluded that coal dust is car­cino­genic.

“Cal­i­for­nia has worked hard to be a coal-freestate—but while the state is set­ting ag­gres­sive car­bon-re­duc­tion tar­gets, this ter­mi­nal would have al­lowed the most car­bon-pol­lut­ing fuel to be brought to mar­ket, with dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences,” the Sierra Club said af­ter the Oak­land vote.

Last month, four Utah coun­ties with­drew an ap­pli­ca­tion to spend $53 mil­lion of state money to ship coal to Oak­land.

Ter­mi­nal Lo­gis­tics So­lu­tions, which op­er­ates the ter­mi­nal, had planned to ex­port coal to Asia un­til the Oak­land vote.

The com­pany ar­gued that con­cerns about coal dust es­cap­ing from the ter­mi­nal or by trains trans­port­ing material there were mis­guided, be­cause the prod­ucts would be stored in cov­ered domes and moved in cov­ered con­vey­ors, ac­cord­ing to amer­i­can­ship­

Across the Pa­cific in China, the govern­ment is try­ing to bal­ance its need for coal with pol­lu­tion con­cerns and over­ca­pac­ity, as the econ­omy re­sets.

China’s coal sec­tor, along with in­dus­tries such as steel, has over­ca­pac­ity es­ti­mated at around 2 bil­lion tons a year, as de­mand growth slows and the coun­try pro­motes cleaner forms of en­ergy.

China planned to close around 1,000 col­lieries this year alone, many of them in res­i­den­tial ar­eas such as Helin, as it re­duces coal’s share of en­ergy con­sump­tion to 62 per­cent by 2020, Reuters re­ported.

But China is still the world’s largest con­sumer and pro­ducer of coal.

“Coal-burn­ing was the most im­por­tant con­trib­u­tor to am­bi­ent PM2.5 (par­tic­u­late mat­ter), caus­ing an es­ti­mated 366,000 pre­ma­ture deaths in 2013,” said Pro­fes­sor Wang Shux­iao of Ts­inghua Univer­sity, a lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor for an Au­gust study: Bur­den of Dis­ease At­trib­ut­able to Coal-Burn­ing and Air Pol­lu­tion Sources in China. “In­dus­trial sources and house­hold solid fuel com­bus­tion, from both coal and non-coal emis­sions, were the largest sec­toral contributors to dis­ease bur­den at­trib­ut­able to am­bi­ent PM2.5 in China, re­spon­si­ble for 250,000 and 177,000 pre­ma­ture deaths, re­spec­tively.”

A 2012 report by the Carnegie En­dow­ment of­fered some rea­sons as to why China is the world’s largest im­porter of coal when it for­merly was a ma­jor ex­porter.

“Sev­eral fac­tors could be con­tribut­ing to China’s sud­den en­trance into coal im­port mar­kets, in­clud­ing trans­porta­tion bot­tle­necks, en­vi­ron­men­tal and safety con­sid­er­a­tions, eco­nomic fac­tors, and con­cerns about de­plet­ing cok­ing coal re­serves.”

China did report a slight drop in its coal con­sump­tion in 2015.

In April, the govern­ment in­creased ef­forts to re­duce over­sup­ply and pol­lu­tion in ma­jor cities by re­duc­ing the num­ber of work­ing days for coal min­ers from 330 days a year to 276.

The govern­ment also made trim­ming ex­cess ca­pac­ity a pri­or­ity in 2015 at the Cen­tral Eco­nomic Work Con­fer­ence and put it in the 13th Five-Year Plan.

China plans to cut steel and coal ca­pac­ity by about 10 per­cent in the next few years, with fund­ing for dis­placed work­ers.

Coal is also a po­lit­i­cal is­sue on the US East Coast. West Vir­ginia, which has 140 coal com­pa­nies, has suf­fered eco­nom­i­cally as the coun­try shifts to­ward cleaner en­ergy.

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