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Published: 12/21/2008

Clean-coal plan could gain new life

Remember FutureGen?

Once the poster boy of the molasses-like Bush energy policy, FutureGen was going to usher in a new era of coal-fired power plants by serving as the prototype for ones that could emit little, if any, air pollution.

Nearly every state wanted the project when it was announced in 2003, especially Ohio.

Being host state meant you got a then-staggering sum of

$1 billion in government contracts to build the test facility. But the real incentive was becoming America's hub for clean-coal research and all of the high-tech jobs and research money that goes with that.

Illinois prevailed. It edged out President Bush's home state of Texas a year ago last Thursday.

Then, in what was described as "an example of politics at its worst," the Bush Administration claimed the program had become too expensive and killed it.

True, politicians weren't throwing around billions in casual conversation like they are today, unless you count the war in Iraq. But certainly not for developing a clean form of energy that could improve both our national security and public health while stimulating the economy.

Costs did rise by $800 million, though, bringing the project up to its current estimate of $1.8 billion.

No, what is truly ironic is that the quote above came last Jan. 29 from none other than Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich who, until now, had been the state of Illinois' unofficial FutureGen cheerleader.

He was the one out front lobbying Congress to forge ahead.

Now, with a U.S. senator from Illinois about to replace Mr. Bush and the Democrats solidifying their control of Congress, Illinois figures to be back in play for FutureGen.

Is it?

Ohio - though disappointed in being the bridesmaid and not the bride - will continue to support Illinois to keep the project in the Great Lakes region. After all, the next best thing to winning a lottery is being friends, relatives, or neighbors with someone who did.

Voters will look for Barack Obama to retool and transform America in a variety of ways, including a more diversified energy portfolio.

Mr. Obama's critics will invariably accuse him of rejuvenating FutureGen as a political favor for his home state if the project gets a new life, even though the paper trail is clear it was conceived by and during the Bush Administration. A site in the little town of Mattoon, Ill., was selected a year ago by the FutureGen Alliance, a coalition of electric utilities and coal companies.

But there's the Blagojevich factor. And those messy FBI corruption charges, which include allegations that Mr. Blagojevich tried to sell the rights to Mr. Obama's Senate seat and get members of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board fired.

The new push for the project, though, is not coming from Mr. Blagojevich's office - as others had.

It's coming from the FutureGen for Illinois task force that includes more than 100 of the state's most prominent business, civic, government, academic, and labor leaders.

Mr. Obama is listed as a task force member. Mr. Blagojevich is listed as, um, its chairman.

The Illinois governor was not quoted in a Dec. 12 release that cited new studies promoting Mattoon's geology for underground storage of captured greenhouse gases from such a facility.

Speaking of Energy Efficiency: Kilowatt Ours: A Plan to Re-Energize America airs on public television station WGTE on Tuesday at 8 p.m.; Wednesday at 2 a.m., and next Sunday at 12 a.m. and 5 p.m. The award-winning film gives a good overview of what's warming the Earth's climate and what you, as a consumer, can do to help make a difference.



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