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Friday, December 9, 2011

Coal exports: When energy execs sound like cigarette execs

I started really thinking about the globalization of the West's natural resources a long time ago. It's not taking too big of a leap to say that outsourcing our mineral production helped lead to the closure of a lot of mines in the West. I would have never expected, a decade ago, that the globalization tide would reverse itself. Then, in 2008, while researching a story about a resurgence in copper mining in Arizona, an economic development guy in Globe, Ariz., said that the great thing about the new boom is that all the copper was going to China. An economic collapse at home, in other words, wouldn't damage the industry.

That turned out to be a bit naive. The U.S. housing bust was so big that it dragged the global economy down with it, even China's. But China, thanks to a massive stimulus package, bounced back, and so did the natural resource industries here at home. Coal, however, especially that from the West, hasn't benefited quite as much from China's hunger, mostly because it's tough to get it there. That's changing, as I've written about in HCN. It wasn't until Yale e360 asked me to write a piece about coal exports, however, that I noticed something funny: How similar today's coal executive rhetoric is to that of tobacco executives back in the 1980s. Basically, the challenges faced at home by the coal industry today are similar to those faced by cigarettes back then. And they're looking to the gargantuan Chinese market to salve their wounds.

Read about it at Yale e360.