Thursday, May 24, 2018
Business

Trump gets it wrong on U.S., China coal connection, usage

The statement

"We're practically not allowed to use coal anymore. What do we do with our coal? We ship it to China and they spew it in the air."

Donald Trump, Nov. 30 on MSNBC's Morning Joe

The ruling

There's a grain of truth here, but it's buried under significant exaggeration.

In August, the Obama administration announced Clean Power Plan regulations that would require power plants to reduce carbon emissions, from 2005 levels, by 32 percent by 2030.

Advocates say the reduction would help ease global warming, along with cutting emissions that create soot and smog. But the regulatory effort has alarmed the coal industry and its allies in Congress.

"This administration's regulatory assault on coal has had the intention — and increasingly the practical effect — of taking coal out of the market," said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association. (The plan continues to be challenged in court.)

Several factors — tighter government regulations, yes, but also lower natural gas prices, and changing consumer and industry preferences — have combined to reduce the amount of coal used for electricity generation by about one-sixth since 2008.

But contrary to what Trump asserted, Popovich said, "coal is not going away."

The U.S. electric power sector consumed 858.3 million tons of coal in 2013, the most recent full year for which Energy Information Administration data is available. It was a little over 1 billion tons in 2008, the last year before the most recent recession.

Despite the decline, coal remains the single most common source for electricity generation in the United States.

In 2014, coal accounted for 39 percent of electricity generation, followed by natural gas at 27 percent, nuclear at 19 percent, hydropower at 6 percent and other renewable sources at 7 percent.

In its most recent future projection, the Energy Information Administration predicted that coal would maintain its top spot for electricity generation. Under the most basic economic parameters, coal would decline in future years due in large part to the retirement of aging coal-fired plants but would still account for 34 percent of energy generation in 2040. The enactment of policies that put coal at a disadvantage could drop that percentage further by 2040.

Beyond electricity generation, 43.3 million tons of coal were used for other industrial purposes in the United States in 2013, and 2 million tons were allocated to commercial and institutional uses.

In other words, coal usage may be slipping, but it's still in wide use around the country and will continue to be a major source of energy for the next quarter-century.

Trump also said, "We ship (coal) to China and they spew it in the air."

China is a major world user of coal, and scientists say its emissions are a major factor in climate change.

But very little of the coal produced in the United States goes to China, so any change in U.S. trade policy would have little effect on China's coal usage.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. exported 1.8 million tons of coal to China in 2014. That's less than 2 percent of all U.S. coal exports last year, which totaled 97.3 million tons to all countries combined. By comparison, the United Kingdom imports more than five times as much U.S. coal as China does, Germany imports more than twice as much U.S. coal as China does, and the Netherlands imports about seven times as much.

U.S. coal exports don't account for much of what China uses, either.

We rate this Mostly False.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

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