TOLEDO, OH - More than nine out of every ten tons of coal shipped on the Great Lakes in 2008 was mined in a state or province that does not border the waterway. Sixty percent of the 37 million tons of Lakes-shipped coal originated 1,150 miles away in the Powder River Basin that runs through Montana, Wyoming and Colorado.
Montana and Wyoming were the largest players in the Lakes coal trade in 2008. Both states shipped about 11.1 million tons of western coal to power plants in the U.S. and Canada via the Lakes. The coal is railed to Superior, Wisconsin, where it is then loaded into U.S.– and Canadian-Flag lakers.
Colorado coal mines added another 700,000 tons to the 2008 total.
West Virginia is the leader among states that mine eastern coal. West Virginia mines shipped 5.2 million tons of coal on the Lakes in 2008 from ports on Lake Erie and Lake Michigan, or 14 percent of the trade’s year-end total.
Kentucky mines accounted for 2.6 million tons, or 7 percent of the trade. Virginia coal mines generated 1.4 million tons, or 3.7 percent of the 2008 total.
Coal mines in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia shipped 2 million tons in 2008, or 5.4 percent of the trade. Almost all of that total moved through Thunder Bay, Ontario, at the western end of Lake Superior.
Pennsylvania is the leading Great Lakes state shipping coal on the waterway. Keystone state mines were the source for about 2.4 million tons.
Ohio mines generated 700,000 tons, and a couple coal cargos originated in Illinois.
All the western coal shipped on the Great Lakes is for power generation, so-called steam coal. Most of the eastern coal is also destined for utilities, but a quantity is metallurgical coal used in the steelmaking process.
"Too often we look at Great Lakes shipping as regional in impact," said Donald Cree, President of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force ("GLMTF"), the largest coalition promoting waterborne commerce on the Great Lakes. "The coal trade illustrates how the vitality and reliability of Great Lakes shipping contributes to the national economy," explained Cree, who is also National Vice President - Great Lakes for American Maritime Officers. "The dredging crisis, the need for a second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, the need to upgrade the Coast Guard’s icebreaking assets ... all play a major role in the health of the U.S. economy."
"These statistics underscore the national impact of Great Lakes shipping," said James H.I. Weakley, 1st Vice President of GLMTF and President of Lake Carriers’ Association. "Equally important, they focus our attention on how problems on the Lakes affect workers and industries far from their shores. The dredging crisis, for example, determines how much Montana coal can be shipped on the Lakes. Even though water levels are rising, the largest vessels are still leaving 5,000 tons or more on the dock each trip. The need for another heavy icebreaker impacts West Virginia’s ability to export its coal to Canada during the December-April ice season. A failure of the Poe Lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, would cripple the western coal trade."
The Great Lakes shipping industry had hoped the economic stimulus package would accelerate construction of a second Poe-sized lock approved by Congress at full Federal expenses in 2007, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chose not to include the project among those it funded. Instead, the Lakes received a mere 2 percent of the $4.6 billion Congress gave the Corps to rehabilitate the nation’s waterways and in the process create much-needed jobs.
The House of Representatives has passed legislation authorizing construction of a new heavy icebreaker for the Lakes. Senate concurrence is now needed.
"The backlog of sediment in Great Lakes ports and waterways - some 17 million cubic yards - is slowly being removed," said John. D Baker, 2nd Vice President of GLMTF and President Emeritus of the ILA’s Great Lakes District Council. "But the backlog is being reduced only because Great Lakes legislators fought to bring more dredging dollars to the Lakes. Restoring the Great Lakes navigation system to functional dimensions will require more than $200 million. We hope legislators in coal mining states outside the Great Lakes basin will see the value to their constituents and help us fund dredging, twin the Poe Lock, and increase the Coast Guard’s icebreaking capabilities on the Lakes."
Founded in 1992, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force promotes domestic and international shipping on the Great Lakes. It is the largest coalition to ever speak for the Great Lakes shipping community and draws its membership from both labor and management representing U.S.-Flag vessel operators, shipboard and longshore unions, port authorities, cargo shippers, terminal operators, shipyards and other Great Lakes interests. Its goals include restoring adequate funding for dredging of Great Lakes deep-draft ports and waterways, construction of a second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan; protecting the Jones Act and other U.S. maritime cabotage laws and regulations; maximizing the Lakes overseas trade; and opposing exports and increased diversions of Great Lakes water.
Glen G. Nekvasil
Secretary, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force