Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - Coal has been one of the largest exports in the Northland for decades, but recent energy saving measures and stricter air pollution policies across the U.S. have taken a toll on coal exports.
The Great Lakes has seen a 13–percent decrease from a year ago, forcing ports across the states to adapt to the changes.
"What's happened in recent years is, as Ontario, as a province of Canada, has moved towards renewable energy, they've been cutting their orders for coal," said Adele Yorde with the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.
Those cuts could have had a devastating economic impact on the Duluth–Superior port, but a new market has opened up, easing the hit.
While the demand for coal has gone down in the U.S., it has increased in Europe.
"Midwest Energy is using the Great Lakes Seaway system to actually export that coal to Spain, the Netherlands, and other places in Europe," said Yorde.
Shipping companies in the area have decided to utilize the Canadian ports that were once the coal's destination as the new middle–man for overseas shipping, strengthening Duluth's reputation as an international port.
"Europe is very receptive to low sulfur coal," Yorde said, "It bodes well for some future developments for export business."
Port Trade Development Director, Ron Johnson, says Europe is also moving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and says changing from Europe's high-sulfur coal to the low sulfur of western coal is a step in the right direction.
"They're burning a lot of wood pellets along with their existing supplies of coal. The thing about European coal, it's not low–sulfur coal like we have available here," said Ron Johnson with the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.
Johnson says this is a market that could be around for quite a while.
"Europe has a need and they were able to put together a sale and the freight rates were okay and competitive. So they started shipping coal to Europe last year and then it's increased this year," said Johnson.
Yorde says future coal shipments are dependent on a number of factors including stable freight rates, prevailing international attitudes toward greenhouse gasses, and the United State's ever changing energy policies.