By Alyssa Johl,
Senior Attorney, Climate & Energy Program
Today, CIEL and other environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the US Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank) challenging the federal government’s financing for coal exports from the United States. In 2012, the Ex-Im Bank ─ a federal agency that has been funneling billions of US tax dollars into polluting energy projects abroad ─ provided a $90 million loan guarantee to XCoal & Energy Resources for coal exports without conducting an assessment of environmental impacts as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The coal will be extracted in Appalachia and shipped from ports in Baltimore, Maryland and Norfolk, Virginia to markets in China, Japan and South Korea. From mine mouth to smokestack, this investment will create significant environmental and health costs for neighboring communities, and will contribute to climate change.
Continued US investment in coal exports runs directly counter to President Obama’s stated goals and commitment to “to leave [future generations] a planet that is not polluted and damaged.” In his Climate Action Plan launched last month, the President committed to set carbon pollution standards for new and existing US coal plants, and to reduce public funding for coal fired power plants overseas. These specific initiatives represent a policy shift away from coal to clean energy investment (success!), however, the overall Climate Action Plan misses a crucial link. While Obama has promised to limit investments in coal plants at home and overseas, the plan does nothing to address the United States’ expanding role in coal exports.
President Obama has acknowledged our moral duty to “do all that we can” to confront the imminent threats posed by climate change. Our lawsuit challenging Ex-Im’s loan guarantee to XCoal sends a strong message that the US must end its support for a dirty energy economy by phasing out investments for all aspects of the fossil fuel supply chain. Continued (and increased) investment in fossil fuel exports to other countries does not constitute the kind of action needed to meaningfully address climate change.
In addition to its contributions to climate change, US coal exports will have significant social and environmental impacts both at home and overseas. In the United States, the communities near the mining site as well as those located along the transport routes and ports would be affected by the coal extraction, transport and dust – and these impacts must be assessed. But coal has a dirty lifecycle that doesn’t merely end at the export terminal. Therefore, the impacts of coal transport and combustion in other countries must also be taken into account. Feeding the foreign addiction to coal burdens poor communities with the pollution impacts, causing more harm than good. It is the world’s dirtiest form of energy and the greatest contributor to climate change.
Dirty coal exports threaten the fundamental rights of communities at home and abroad, and further contributes to global climate change. President Obama’s commitment to lead on climate requires more from the United States, and it requires a decisive transition away from fossil fuels – whether mined, shipped, processed or burned at home or abroad.