Most of the coal that B.C. produces and exports is metallurgical, or coking, coal used for steel making – rather than thermal coal used to generate electricity.
And under an energy plan announced in 2007, B.C. – which relies on rivers and dams to generate most of its electricity – effectively ruled out coal-fired electricity plants by requiring new electricity sources to have "net-zero" greenhouse gas emissions.
But that doesn't mean the province is off the hook when it comes to coal-related greenhouse gas emissions, said Mark Jaccard, a Simon Fraser University economist.
Greenhouse gas emissions associated with increasing production of coal – even if it is not used to generate electricity – will make it more difficult to reach greenhouse gas reduction targets set by the federal government, he said.
"It's really obvious how we reduce emissions and we don't do it by continuing to take carbon out of the Earth's crust and saying, 'We'll stop doing it when the Chinese stop doing it,' " he said in a recent interview.
In September, federal Environment Minister Peter Kent announced new regulations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired electricity generation.
Coal-fired electricity accounts for about 11 per cent of Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions.
In the United States, the combination of low natural gas prices and new environmental regulations is forcing some coal-fired generation out of business, resulting in what some industry interests call a "war on coal."