Coal exports from the United States have declined since the peak year of 2012. In 2013, producers exported 100 million tons, down from 125.6 million tons in 2012.
Various expansion and new port proposals could lift capacity to 443 million tons, an increase of 190 million tons per year. The largest of these proposals are in Washington State – the Gateway Pacific Terminal in Bellingham, (45 mtpa) and the Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview (40 mtpa).
The supply of coal-port capacity for shipping coal mined in the United States exceeds the demand for it. During the most robust year for coal exports on record, 2012, no U.S. port exceeded 70 percent of capacity. While U.S. ports today have the capacity to ship 234 million tons per year (mtpa), export levels this year might not exceed 80 million tons, which would be only 34 percent of port capacity.
That means that plans for new coal port capacity are ill-conceived, including the very large proposals being considered in the Pacific Northwest and in Gulf Coast states. Coal and shipping interests have proposed six new export terminals in the Northwest alone in recent years. Developers cancelled projects at three sites, however, and a fourth has had a crucial state permit denied, where the federal government has suspended permit processing pending state appeals. In Gulf Coast states, plans for at least four new coal export terminals have been abandoned owing to opposition and market volatility. However, permits are still being sought for the RAM Terminals coalexport facility outside New Orleans, which would have the capacity to ship 8 million tons of coal per year, and in Houston, where two terminals are expanding or have expanded already, and a third may be built. Meanwhile, the global price for thermal coal has sunk to five-year lows, and most major coal-consuming nations are rethinking their energy strategies. Most major banks and analysts have backed away from previous projections of new investments in coal mining and exports.
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