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U.S. Thermal Coal Finds New Life Overseas

  • US thermal coal exports surpassed $5 billion in 2023, with India being the largest recipient, making up over a third of total exports.
  • Domestic coal use in the US has hit a century low, while exports have increased, especially to countries like India, where coal remains a dominant source of electricity.
  • The surge in exports comes as US companies move manufacturing to India, leveraging a coal-heavy power grid, despite public commitments to green policies.

US thermal coal exporters recorded more than $5 billion in overseas sales in 2023, shipping upwards of 32.5 million metric tons of the high-polluting power fuel, according to Reuters, citing data from ship-tracking firm Kpler. These coal export earnings were the second highest since 2017, trailing only behind 2022's $5.7 billion. This comes as US utility coal usage for electricity generation tumbles to the lowest in this century. 

Reuters points out diverging trends between sliding domestic coal use at power plants and a surge in coal exports. They called this "hypocrisy, given the country's ambitions to become a global leader in energy transition and pollution reduction efforts." 

In 2023, India was the largest destination for US coal shipments, with 11.8 million tons delivered, accounting for 36.3% of total US thermal exports. Kpler data showed that volume was up 130% from 2022, and the south Asian nation is the world's largest coal producer and consumer after China. 

"India is expected to remain a keen buyer of international coal as the country's domestic reserves are being depleted and power firms rely on coal for about 75% of India's electricity," Reuters said.

This comes as major US companies, such as Apple, have been shifting manufacturing supply chains from China to India - a move called 'friendshoring'. 

In a separate report, Reuters pointed out that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government increased coal power generation in 2023 by 11.3%, the fastest pace in at least five years. 

"In the next 18 months, about 19,600 MW (megawatts of) capacity is likely to be commissioned," the power ministry said late last week. 

Many of these companies, who have adopted woke green policies, will be or have already produced goods in India on a grid heavily reliant on coal.

Other top export destinations for US coal last year include The Netherlands (13.4% of total), Egypt (8.5%), Morocco (6.7%) and Japan (6.0%).

According to the US Energy Information Administration, a record 17% of total US coal production was exported, compared to around 12.5% in 2017. 

To sum up, Biden is 'making coal great again' with surging exports. At the same time, US corporations flock to India from China to build products on coal-powered grids while virtue signaling back in the States how they're saving the planet by planting trees and buying carbon credits. 

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