By Gross, Daniel
Newsweek , Vol. 156, No. 22
Byline: Daniel Gross
America isn't just an energy eater.
The United States is known throughout the world as a pathetic energy hog. Americans' insatiable need for gas and electricity plays havoc with trade flows (petroleum-related imports accounted for 38 percent of the trade deficit in September) and sustains hostile, undemocratic governments like those in Venezuela and Iran. But a funny thing is happening to the globe's black hole of energy--it's becoming an exporter.
It's common to hear people say that the U.S. is the Saudi Arabia of coal. That doesn't mean that women in Appalachia are forced to walk around covered from head to toe. Rather, the U.S., like Saudi Arabia, has a massive supply--a few hundred years' worth--of an important fossil fuel that everyone on the planet loves to burn. While coal is becoming less popular domestically because of heightened environmental awareness, anthracite still has global appeal. China--along with plenty of other emerging economies--keeps the lights on largely by burning lumps of coal. This adds up to big increases in exports. In the first half of 2010 the U.S. exported 39.8 million short tons of coal worth about $4.7 billion, up 51 percent from the first half of 2009. The biggest customers include South Korea, Brazil, and China. We even send some coal to Newcastle--about 2.14 million tons were shipped to Britain in the first half of 2010.
The U.S. is also the Saudi Arabia of grains. American farmers are so prolific--at growing corn and lobbying for subsidies--that the U.S. now produces huge quantities of transportation fuel from maize and other crops. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, ethanol production is running at a pace of about 12.5 billion gallons for 2010, compared with just 6.5 billion in 2007. Since the domestic market is saturated, and since Brazil, a major producer, has suffered from disappointing sugar harvests, a small but growing chunk of ethanol production is now being shipped overseas. In September of 2010 alone, according to the RFA, 38.8 million gallons of ethanol were exported--more than was exported in all of 2006. Jeff Cooper, vice president of research at RFA, says the industry could export 330 million gallons in 2010, up from 160 million in 2008. The exports--about 3 percent of total production--go to Canada, the Middle East, and Europe. …