U.S. coal exports from terminals in the Pacific Northwest and Gulf of Mexico could aid coal producers, who are keen to tap into international demand after a drop-off in domestic coal use.

However, local officials and environmental groups have been resistant to plans to build the necessary infrastructure, like ports and rail, in the region. The Seattle City Council, for example, voted down plans for an export terminal that would have shipped coal from Wyoming and Montana’s Powder Basin to markets in Asia. Coal producers and exporters say the projects will deliver local and national economic benefits, including jobs and tax revenue.

Coal exports rose 57 percent in 2011, with the majority still going to Europe. Although many expect Asia’s share of global demand to rise, largely on the back of China, Paul Thiers, an associate professor of political science at Washington State University Vancouver specializing in China’s economy and environmental policy, calls the idea of China’s endless demand for coal “a myth.”

Is coal-export infrastructure a wise investment in the short- and medium-term? What are some potentially unforeseen consequences of increased coal exports?