US Coal Exports Could Push the Climate Past a Point of No Return

by Kelly Mitchell

January 22, 2013

Theres a new front line in the battle to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Companies like Arch, Ambre, and Peabody want to ship the coal buried under the United States to Asia, releasing disastrous amounts of carbon pollution, just to line their own pockets. This expansion in US coal exports could release more carbon pollution than any other new fossil fuel project in the United States, according to a new report Greenpeace released today.

In 2012, the reality of the climate crisis hit home for many Americans. Farmers throughout the Midwest lost crops to record-setting droughts and Hurricane Sandy wrecked havoc on the lives and livelihoods of millions of families on the East Coast. As we entered 2013, scientists confirmed that 2012 was the hottest on record, and that the potential for future devastation is more urgent and severe than previously thought.

Its a sobering reality, one that President Obama acknowledged in no uncertain terms in his second inaugural address:

We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, butnone can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more devastating storms.”

Its a reality that compels us to swiftly transition our economy away from dangerous fossil fuels to safe, clean renewable energy.

Unfortunately, despite the risk, fossil fuel companies are moving forward with massive new extraction projects that will push us past a tipping point for the climate.

The new Greenpeace International report, Point of No Return, quantifies the carbon pollution that would be released if governments and corporations move forward with 14 planned coal, oil and gas projects around the world.

U.S. coal export expansion emerges in the report as the largest climate threat among new domestic fossil fuel projects. Using conservative estimates, the proposed expansion would produce 420 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually by 2020 or more carbon pollution than the entire country of Spain.

If were serious about halting the worst impacts of climate change, we must fight Arch, Ambre, and Peabodys plans, and keep this coal in the ground.

The good news is that there is a growing movement to stop coal exports. In the past few months alone, over 10,000 people have turned out to public hearings in the Pacific Northwest to say no to new coal export terminals.

The Department of Interior is under investigation for its coal leasing practices, which have given industry a $30 billion and counting subsidy on the backs of US taxpayers. More investigations may be on the way.

We havent reached the Point of No Return. Globally, renewable energy can power our homes, cars, and businesses, and make these massive extraction projects irrelevant. Thats why Greenpeace is calling on elected officials to put people over profits and put the brakes on coal export expansion.

In the coming months, Oregons Gov. Kitzhaber can deny Ambre Energys permits for a new coal terminal. The Obama Administration can declare a moratorium on new coal leasing in the Powder River Basin. And politicians and regulators at all levels of government must consider that green-lighting any new coal export-related infrastructure would lock us into a hotter, more dangerous climate.

Kelly Mitchell

By Kelly Mitchell

Kelly Mitchell is the Climate and Energy Campaign Director for Greenpeace, based in Chicago. Since 2006, she has worked with activists and organizations across the country to confront corporate polluters and transform U.S. energy policy. She currently leads Greenpeace's campaign for an economy powered by 100 percent renewable energy, pushing some of the largest companies in the world to embrace wind and solar and working alongside communities to develop a just and democratic energy system.

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