Big Coal's Hard Road to China

Green groups are blocking plans to ship from Washington state
Coal train at Roberts Bank, B.C. Photograph by Paul K. Anderson

Mike Seely, a third-generation mint farmer in the Pacific Northwest, says the fear of coal dust wakes him up in the middle of the night. Coal companies, which are suffering from a steep drop in demand in the U.S., see their salvation in China. To ship coal from the mines of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin to Asia, the mining companies are backing a half-dozen proposed coal ports in Washington state and Oregon. Among their allies are BNSF Railway, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and Goldman Sachs, which is an investor in a company building one of the ports. If all the ports were built, analysts estimate that the mining companies could sell 146 million tons worth at least $1.3 billion annually to the Chinese.

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