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The Charleston Gazette (West Virginia)

Coal Wins Big in Senate Stimulus Package

Ken Ward Jr.

A flock of geese fly past a smokestack at the Jeffery Energy Center coal power plant near Emmitt, Kan. Saturday, Jan. 10, 2009. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Coal supporters have managed to tuck more than $4.6 billion in money for the industry into a Senate version of the economic stimulus package.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the legislation with several coal projects pushed by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.

The Senate funding is nearly double the $2.6 billion included in a current House version of the legislation, meant to help boost the sagging economy across the country.

Details were still emerging Tuesday evening, but among the coal provisions outlined in a Byrd news release and a committee statement:

  • $2 billion for "near-zero emissions" power plants designed to capture and sequester carbon dioxide.
  • $1 billion for the Department of Energy's Clean Coal Power Initiative.
  • $1.6 billion for carbon capture at industrial plants.

"Clean, carbon-neutral coal can be a 'green' energy," Byrd said. "As Congress strives to develop a national energy policy that will break our dependence on foreign oil, it is crucial to ensure that coal, burned in more efficient ways, is part of our nation's diverse energy mix for the future." Byrd added, "These investments will help to bolster West Virginia's economic future."

The economic stimulus bill will now be sent to the Senate floor for debate and votes by the full Senate.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has also been working behind the scenes to get as much money as possible into the stimulus package for what supporters call "clean coal" programs.

Last year, Rockefeller managed to get $2.8 billion for the coal industry into the massive Wall Street bailout.

Most of that money was aimed at encouraging power producers to limit greenhouse gas emissions. However, the bill also aimed to promote turning coal into liquid fuel, a move that could double greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle fuels.

During his campaign, President Barack Obama promised to invest $150 billion over 10 years on a variety of energy programs, and to launch public/private partnerships to build five commercial-scale coal-fired power plants that capture carbon dioxide emissions.

However, environmental groups are concerned that Congress will not put tight enough restrictions on "clean coal" projects - requirements that they actually limit their greenhouse gas emissions and do so now, rather than much later. Also, some citizen groups, especially those opposing mountaintop removal in Appalachia, argue there is no such thing as "clean coal," whether greenhouse emissions are captured or not.


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