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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

NEWCASTLE, Australia — Coal exports out of this resource-rich nation brought in record-high revenue last year, according to government data released this month.

The big picture: As concerns about climate change grow, coal is considered on its way out. But for many growing economies in Southeast Asia that are Australia's biggest coal customers, it's often seen as the preferred, cheapest electricity option.

Driving the news: Coal exports brought in a record $66 billion (in Australian dollars) in export value last year, according to data from the government's Bureau of Statistics released earlier this month.

  • The data also shows that coal surpassed iron ore to become the biggest export in Australia, one of the world’s largest exporters of fossil fuels and other resources.

The intrigue: Earlier this week, I visited coal-export terminals in Newcastle, a couple hours' drive north of Sydney. The collective volume of approximately 160 million tons a year makes the area the single biggest port for coal exports in the world, according to executives at the Port Waratah Coal Services, which runs the largest operation on site here.

  • The expansive terminal sits along the banks of the Pacific Ocean along Australia's Southeast coast and loads 10,000 tons of coal an hour onto ships.
  • The company receives 35 to 40 trains of coal a day from the nearby Hunter Valley, which is known for its coal mines and wineries.
  • About 1,300 ships a year come through Port Waratah's operations, sending the coal mostly to Southeast Asian countries, including Japan and South Korea.

Between the lines: The type of coal exported from Newcastle is considered a cleaner type compared to the world’s other big coal exporter, nearby Indonesia. This is why Australia’s coal producers think they can thrive in a world addressing climate change.

"There's definitely industry recognition that the world is on a certain path. The industry in Hunter Valley expects to be a part of the thermal coal picture for as long as there is a significant thermal coal industry on the basis of having a superior product that’s accessible to large parts of what is going to be longer term markets."
— Hennie du Plooy, CEO, Port Waratah Coal Services

What's next: du Plooy says growth is expected to remain stable through at least the next decade or more due to demand from Southeast Asia. This contrasts with government policy moves in places like Europe, much of which is looking to shut down coal plants due to climate-change concerns.

  • The big looming challenge for Australian producers is to what degree permits for new coal mines in Hunter Valley and elsewhere are rejected on the basis of climate change concerns, based on a potential precedent setting court ruling just this month. That would erode supply for the export market over time.

Go deeper: The world needs clean coal but can't get it

Go deeper

1 hour ago - World

Army to award Purple Hearts to troops injured in Iran missile attack

Damage at Ain al-Asad military airbase housing U.S. and other foreign troops in the western Iraqi province of Anbar in January 2020. Photo: Ayman Henna/AFP via Getty Images

The Army has approved 39 more Purple Hearts for U.S. soldiers wounded in an Iranian military ballistic missile attack on an Iraq base in January 2020, the Army Times first reported Wednesday.

Why it matters: Most of these soldiers sustained brain injuries, per the Army Times. Then-President Trump dismissed their injuries at the time as "headaches" and "not very serious," sparking backlash from some veterans groups.

Scoop: U.S. begins denying Afghan immigrants

Afghan refugees on a bus bound for temporary housing after arriving in Greece. Photo: Byron Smith/Getty Images

The Biden administration has begun issuing denials to Afghans seeking to emigrate to the United States through the humanitarian parole process, after a system that typically processes 2,000 applications annually has been flooded with more than 30,000.

Why it matters: Afghans face steeper odds and longer processes for escaping to the U.S., despite the earlier sweeping efforts by the Biden administration to assist its allies. Immigration lawyers and advocacy groups say the government has set untenable barriers to a safe haven in the U.S.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Dems invoke Robert Byrd to sell Manchin on Senate rules changes

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Diana Walker, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A small group of Senate Democrats is privately invoking the legacy of late West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd in an effort to sway Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support their plans to change the chamber's rules, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Manchin — who holds Byrd's Senate seat — has often referenced his predecessor's strong moral conviction and insistence on preserving the Senate as an institution, as justification for some of his tough positions.