Even as Congressional leaders draft legislation to reduce greenhouse gases linked to global warming, a powerful roster of Democrats and Republicans is pushing to subsidize coal as the king of alternative fuels.
Prodded by intense lobbying from the coal industry, lawmakers from coal states are proposing that taxpayers guarantee billions of dollars in construction loans for coal-to-liquid production plants, guarantee minimum prices for the new fuel, and guarantee big government purchases for the next 25 years.
Among the proposed inducements winding through House and Senate committees: loan guarantees for six to 10 major coal-to-liquid plants, each likely to cost at least $3 billion; a tax credit of 51 cents for every gallon of coal-based fuel sold through 2020; automatic subsidies if oil prices drop below $40 a barrel; and permission for the Air Force to sign 25-year contracts for almost a billion gallons a year of coal-based jet fuel.
- Representative Nick V. Rahall, Democrat of West Virginia and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee
- Representative Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat
- Senator Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat,
- Senators Jim Bunning of Kentucky and Larry Craig of Wyoming, both Republicans.
- Former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, who has been hired to lobby for the initiative.
“At best, you’re going to tread water on the carbon issue, and you’re probably going to do worse,” said Howard Herzog, a principal research engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a co-author of “The Future of Coal,” a voluminous study published in March by M.I.T. “It goes against the whole grain of reducing carbon.”
The M.I.T. team expressed even more skepticism about the economic risks. It estimated that it would cost $70 billion to build enough plants to replace 10 percent of American gasoline consumption.
The study estimates that the construction costs for coal-to-liquid plants are almost four times higher than the costs for comparable petroleum refineries, and it argues that cost estimates for synthetic fuel plants in the past turned out to be “wildly optimistic.”
There's a lot to suggest this proposal offers no real solutions to the greater problems we face with regard to our oil supplies, as well as environmental concerns. It the end the only guarantee we're getting from this raw deal is that one way or another, we'll continue paying for our oil addiction.
This is one proposal we can't afford.