Demand cools as fight rages over coal-export terminals

Back in 2011, when SSA Marine laid out plans for a major coal-export terminal in Northwest Washington, international markets were on a tear as the demand for coal pushed prices to record levels. But this summer, export prices have plunged by more than 40 percent, prompting some coal-export projects in Australia to be scaled back or scuttled. That’s raising new questions about the prospect for large-scale exports from the proposed SSA Marine terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County and a second terminal proposed for Longview in Southwest Washington.

A Goldman Sachs report called 2013 a “watershed year for global coal markets,” and predicted that export coal markets will continue to be characterized by ample supply and lackluster demand in the short to medium term — and that prices will eventually be capped at $85 a ton “for the foreseeable future.” Furthermore,  researchers from three organizations — Sightline Institute, Climate Solutions and Greenpeace — highlighted the downturn in coal markets during a news conference last week.

There is no question that the U.S. coal companies need Asian markets for Powder River coal. The key question is, do Asian markets need Powder River coal?” said Ross MacFarlane, a senior adviser at Climate Solutions. Clearly, these companies are relying on and hoping for rising prices in the international coal market.

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