U.S. coal imports

From Global Energy Monitor

A 2010 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), "Burning Coal, Burning Cash: Ranking the States That Import the Most Coal" found that 38 states were net importers of coal in 2008 — from other states and, increasingly, other nations, despite the U.S. having one of the largest coal reserves in the country.[1] Eleven of those states spent more than $1 billion each on net coal imports (the cost of coal brought into the state, minus revenue from the coal that in-state mines exported). The report calculates the economic costs of such imports on state economies, and suggests how states can keep more of those funds through investments in energy efficiency and homegrown renewable energy.

Most of the nation’s coal comes from just three states: Wyoming, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Wyoming is increasingly dominating the market, providing 40 percent of U.S. coal production in 2008, up from just 18 percent in 1990. In 2008, mines in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin shipped coal to power plants in 34 states, up from 27 states in 2002. UCS also found that many eastern states import coal from other regions of the world, including South America and Southeast Asia.

State Dependence on Coal

UCS ranked states' dependence on imported coal along six categories: net spending on imported coal, net weight of imported coal, per capita spending on imported coal, spending on coal relative to the size of the state economy, reliance on net coal imports relative to total power use, and spending on international coal imports. The information was based upon 2008 data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Based on these measures, UCS calculated the ten most coal-dependent states to be Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Ohio, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Indiana, and Missouri.

Net spending on imported coal

Georgia ranked the biggest spender on coal imports, spending more than $2.6 billion on imports in 2008. Each of the 10 states on the list — along with South Carolina, which ranked eleventh — spent more than $1 billion in 2008 on imported coal.

Net weight of imported coal

Texas is the largest importer of coal by weight, because of the state's high demand for electricity and its large fleet of forty coal-fired power plants. The state imported more than 64 million tons of coal in 2008, mainly from Wyoming ($1.91 billion). The remaining top ten are the southeastern and midwestern states Missouri (43 million tons), Georgia (39.4 million tons), Illinois (37.2 million tons), Michigan (36.0 million tons), Ohio (32.7 million tons), North Carolina (29.4 million tons), Indiana (27.6 million tons), Tennessee (26.5 million tons), and Alabama (25.4 million tons). Collectively, these ten states imported a net 363 million tons of coal in 2008, enough to "fill a train of railcars nearly 36,500 miles long." Between 2002 and 2008, there was a 29 percent increase in net coal imports by weight.

Per capita spending on imported coal

All 10 states on the list spent more than $165 per resident on imported coal in 2008. Alabama topped the list, spending nearly $300 per resident to pay for imported coal.Alabama is followed by Georgia ($270), North Carolina ($245), South Carolina ($245), Tennessee ($194), Missouri ($190), Kansas ($185), Delaware ($183), Indiana ($178), and Iowa ($166).

Spending on coal, relative to state economy size

Measuring the relationship between coal imports and individual gross state products, the report found Alabama to the most coal-dependent state in this way. Alabama spent 0.82 percent of its Gross State Product (GSP) on coal in 2008 and was followed by South Carolina (0.70% GSP), Georgia (0.66% GSP), North Carolina (0.59% GSP), Mississippi (0.50% GSP), Tennessee (0.48% GSP), Missouri (0.48% GSP), Arkansas (0.47% GSP), Indiana (0.45% GSP), and Kansas (0.42% GSP). Eight of these states are also among the top ten states dependent on coal imports per person.

Net coal imports relative to state electricity use

The report found Missouri to top the list of states that import the most coal relative to the total state electricity use. Most of the top ten states mine little or no coal yet rely heavily on the fossil fuel for its electricity generation. Missouri (82% of its total electricity use based on coal in 2008) was followed by Iowa (78%), Kansas (73%), Delaware (69%), Wisconsin (68%), Nebraska (67%), Georgia (65%), Tennessee (63%), Michigan (60%), and North Carolina (57%).

International coal imports

Collectively, sixteen states spent more than $1.8 billion to import 25.4 million tons of coal from abroad in 2008. Alabama spent the most ($489 million), while Massachusetts obtained the highest share of its coal from foreign sources (82 percent).Following Alabama, the remaining top ten are Florida ($307 million), Massachusetts ($206 million), Mississippi ($145 million), Georgia ($97 million), Virginia ($95 million), New Jersey ($93 million), New Hampshire ($79 million), Connecticut ($79 million), and New York ($63 million).

More than 80 percent of U.S. coal imports from other nations came from Columbia in 2008, but imports also arrived from Venezuela and Indonesia. The U.S. continues to export more coal than it imports, but international imports more than tripled from 1999 to 2008.



  1. Jeff Deyette and Barbara Freese, "Burning coal, burning cash: Ranking the states that import the most coal", Union of Concerned Scientists, May 18, 2010.

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