Here we go again.
Just last week, Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company, announced plans to export 24 million tons of coal annually from a large new shipping terminal to be built at Cherry Point near Bellingham. That’s enough coal to make Bellingham one of the biggest coal exporting sites in all of North America. And yet, it may be only half the story.Because the planned terminal will be built to accommodate 54 million tons of bulk materials—dedicated, in the plans, to cleaner commodities like grain—it would be relatively easy for Peabody to double its stated export targets. And now, in an interview with The Guardian, a senior vice president with Peabody is quoted saying:
We’ve just announced a west-coast port project called Cherry Point in northern Washington which would come out of our Wyoming mines and could reach up to 50m tonnes a year…
So, now that 50 million tons is on the table, I’ll point something out: that’s probably not the full story either. It’s widely rumored that Peabody has told investors it intends to ship 100 million, or even 140 million tons, of coal annually from the West Coast, though it’s unlikely that much material could move through Cherry Point.
Peabody’s coal export plans seem to be following the same tangled route laid out by Ambre Energy, a coal company with plans for a facility at Longview, Washington. Ambre’s subsidiary initially asked for approval of a 5 million ton per year coal terminal. But then a legal challenge brought to light damning evidence that Ambre was really planning to move 20 or 60 million tons per year. And then the AP obtained further documents showing that Ambre executives were discussing an 80 million ton coal export project in Longview.
For context, 50 million tons is roughly a year’s supply of coal for 10 coal-fired power plants the size of the one at Centralia. So the much-lauded phase-out of coal there, by 2025, will be just slightly more than a rounding error in coal consumption trends if Peabody gets its way.
Or, as the Peabody exec himself put it:
We’re 100% coal. More coal. Everywhere. All the time.