February 26, 2013 --
Oregon Economics Blog>
Coal-fired power plants are a major source of greenhouse gases, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter. Compared to burning coal, burning natural gas is cleaner and, in the US, cheaper.
Increased reliance on natural gas in the US has led to substantial reductions in domestic coal prices, making US coal more attractive to European importers and potentially more attractive to East Asian importers as well. Nevertheless, despite steep cuts in US coal prices, once transportation costs are taken into account, the price of US coal, especially cleaner coal from the Great Basin, is often higher than the price of locally mined coal in Europe and East Asia. Evidently the reason that US coal is preferred in Europe and East Asia to local coal is that it is cleaner. Compared to the lignite mined in Europe and China, burning western coal from the US generates 50 percent less CO2, Carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides per unit of energy, 30-60 percent less sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, and one-tenth the oxides of mercury. Burning imported cleaner coal in European coal-fired power plants has, therefore, likely reduced global greenhouse emissions, plus most other kinds of air pollution, although it may have slowed the transition to alternative, cleaner energy sources. Burning cleaner imported coal in Chinese power plants should have an even greater effect, both because the Chinese burn more dirty coal than the Europeans and because they do not now anticipate an early transition away from coal.
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