LUENEN, Germany (AP) — One of Germany's newest coal-fired power plants rises here from the banks of a 100-year-old canal that once shipped coal mined from the Ruhr Valley to the world.
Now the coal comes the other way.
The 750-megawatt Trianel Kohlekraftwerk Luenen GmbH & Co. power plant relies completely on coal imports, about half from the U.S. Soon, all of Germany's coal-fired power plants will be dependent on imports, with the country expected to halt coal mining in 2018 when government subsidies end.
Coal mining's demise in Germany comes as the country is experiencing a resurgence in coal-fired power, one which the U.S. increasingly has helped supply. U.S. exports of power plant-grade coal to Germany have more than doubled since 2008. In 2013, Germany ranked fifth, behind the United Kingdom, Netherlands, South Korea and Italy in imports of U.S. steam coal, the type burned in power plants.
On the American side of the pollution ledger, this fossil fuel trade helps the United States look as if it is making more progress on global warming than it actually is. That's because it shifts some pollution — and the burden for cleaning it — onto another other country's balance sheet.
Last year, Germany's carbon dioxide emissions grew by 1.2 percent, in large part because the country burned more coal. German environmental officials say the recent boom in coal-fired power is making it harder for the country to meet its climate-protection goals, even as it has increased renewable energy and participates in a carbon market that has lowered emissions throughout Europe.
Activists put some of the blame on the U.S. and President Barack Obama.
"This is a classic case of political greenwashing," said Dirk Jansen, a spokesman for BUND, a German environmental group. "Obama pretties up his own climate balance, but it doesn't help the global climate at all if Obama's carbon dioxide is coming out of chimneys in Germany."
It's a global shell game that threatens to undermine Obama's strategy of reducing the gases blamed for global warming and reveals a little-discussed side effect of countries acting alone on a global problem. In the global accounting system set up to track carbon dioxide emissions, only fossil fuel consumed inside a nation's borders is counted when calculating that country's greenhouse gas emissions.
The contribution of this exported pollution to global warming is not something the U.S. administration wants to measure, or even talk about.
White House officials say U.S. coal has a negligible global footprint and reducing coal's use worldwide is the best way to ease global warming. In 2012, U.S. coal exports comprised 9 percent of the global export market, the most recent data available.
"There may be a very marginal increase in coal exports caused by our climate policies," said Rick Duke, Obama's deputy climate adviser, in an interview with The Associated Press. "Given that coal supply is widely available from many sources, our time is better spent working on leading toward a global commitment to cut carbon pollution on the demand side."
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