A 12 percent drop in the U.S. power sector’s carbon emissions since 2008 has elicited praise for the Obama Administration’s efforts to combat global warming. Yet the achievement comes with a sooty caveat: Although U.S. coal consumption fell by 195 tons, roughly a fifth of that amount was sold overseas.
Coal exporters have found high demand for the fossil fuel in China and India. Such use boosts U.S. coal-industry earnings and preserves domestic jobs, but it also contributes to carbon emissions. The Obama White House has resisted calls for an evaluation of the global footprint of American coal.
The administration wants to substitute less-dirty energy sources for coal and cut carbon pollution 30 percent by 2030. But such reductions can be undermined when big polluters such as China generate toxic air that affects the global atmosphere.
Washington can’t stop coal exports. But America can model responsible energy use, and pressure nations that burn U.S. coal to contain its harm.