Friday, May 11, 2007

Controversy over plans to convert coal to liquid fuel

from the Los Angeles Times:

WASHINGTON — For years, coal-country lawmakers have talked about turning the abundant natural resource into a fuel for motor vehicles.

The idea went nowhere.

But now it has taken on momentum, oddly enough, just as Congress appears ready to pass legislation to fight global warming.

Even though coal has been attacked as a major culprit in climate change, lawmakers say a coal-derived fuel could solve another problem: U.S. dependence on foreign oil.A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including one presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), is pushing to provide federal loan guarantees, tax breaks and other subsidies to spur the production of fuel from coal.But the process of turning coal into a liquid emits carbon dioxide, so much that each gallon of the fuel would create more greenhouse gases than gasoline — unless the carbon dioxide released in production could be captured and stored.The idea of using the nation's coal reserves, the largest in the world, has drawn new attention as President Bush has pushed for domestically produced alternative fuels, citing national security concerns...

Coal interests remain a powerful force on Capitol Hill, with significant deposits in about 15 states. And congressional action involving coal could prove vexing for presidential candidates when they are stumping for votes in key producing states, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, while also trying to win the support of environmentalists.

Strange bedfellows

The issue has created unusual alliances."What unites President Bush and Barack Obama?" Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch asked in a recent e-mail update on energy legislation. "Why, support for plans to subsidize conversion of coal to liquid fuel."

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