A significant change is affecting Appalachia's coal industry. U.S. sales are sinking, but overseas shipments are booming.
New figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration say coal-burning in America fell by 114 million tons last year, an 11 percent drop -- mostly because cheap natural gas is grabbing the power generation market.
The Central Appalachian field, Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, saw a 16 percent drop in mine production -- mostly because easy-to-reach seams are being depleted, and difficult coal remains.
But total U.S. coal output fell only 7 percent, because exports to Europe and Asia have soared, setting a record in 2012. Appalachia's high-heat metallurgical coal used in steelmaking is wanted overseas. A National Geographic report says:
"Demand for U.S. 'met' coal is so great in Asia that shipments make a round-the-world journey from Appalachia. They are sent by train to Baltimore, where they steam to sea through Chesapeake Bay, then south across the Atlantic Ocean and around Africa's Cape of Good Hope to reach Asian ports."
National Geographic says it's a good news, bad news situation: It's fortunate that America's greenhouse gas pollution from coal-burning is lower -- but it's unfortunate that Europe and Asia are pumping more coal fumes into the air.
During his State of the Union speech, President Obama said: "Over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen."
He didn't mention that America is "offshoring" this problem by sending coal to be burned in other nations.