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Jeff Biggers

Jeff Biggers

Posted: March 13, 2009 12:47 PM

Hey Sen. Durbin: FutureGen Dogs Bark, Green Caravan Moves On

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"In retrospect, FutureGen appears to have been nothing more than a public relations ploy for Bush Administration officials to make it appear to the public and the world that the United States was doing something to address global warming despite its refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol."

That's one of the wakeup calls on the delusions of "clean coal" in a knockout new report by the Majority Staff of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the Committee on Science and Technology. Entitled "The Passing of FutureGen: How the World's Premier Clean Coal Technology Project Came to be Abandoned by the Department of Energy," the House report doesn't pull any punches, giving a blow-by-blow chronicle of the extraordinary bungling and misrepresentation of the FutureGen "clean coal" campaign:

"...what DOE really created was more of a Humpty Dumpty. Just like Humpty Dumpty, when FutureGen fell off the wall in its "restructured" form, it broke apart, and all of DOE's press releases and PowerPoint presentations couldn't put it back together again.

"The end result of this trail of mismanagement? Progress on the great challenges to harness technology to build a greener energy future was stalled, and the United States abandoned its global leadership role.

"No one - except those who may have drunk the Kool-Aid at DOE - was surprised at the
anemic response to the FOA. In the end, almost no one came to DOE's party, and it wasn't the party that had been advertised in the invitation. There were four applications, two of which did not come close to meeting the criteria. Neither of the survivors proposed an IGCC/CCS plant, but hoped to test out experimental carbon capture technology on existing facilities. It was reported that even those applications were incomplete. In January of 2009, Secretary Bodman and his deputies slipped out of town minus viable projects or even press releases claiming success."

Joseph Romm, as usual, has done a great job reviewing the report. The full report can be read here (pdf).

Makes you wonder how much Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin knew about this charade. He recently told the Washington Post of his death-defying crusade to bring FutureGen to Illinois: "This has been my longest, most difficult battle in Congress."

I have tremendous admiration for my senior Senator from Illinois--he's hands down one of the most effective, insightful and progressive members in Congress. We're proud of him; we support him; we vote for him. He's our voice in Washington, DC.

And at a time when the great clean green energy caravan has been launched, and the Green Jobs initiative reflects the bright future, we're confounded by his no-holds-barred dedication to the barking dogs of dirty coal, Peabody Energy and the sham of FutureGen.

Durbin keeps pounding nails into the snow to keep the winter of coal alive.

Perhaps he might want to talk to the high school kids in the Little Village in Chicago, who are planning to run with respirators in a faux "Coal Olympics" to demonstrate the environmental costs of coal-fired plants in their lives.

Perhaps Sen. Durbin might want to consider the devastating realities of coal extraction in Illinois--from both underground and strip mining--and its dirty trail of processing, transportation and finally burning and storage of coal ash.

Perhaps he also needs to visit some great American farmers in Illinois who are fighting the loss of their fertile lands to longwall mining.

Perhaps he needs to hang out at the doctor's office in southern Illinois with some retired coal miners, and hear their stories about black lung--still today, over 1,000 coal miners die annually from a disease we have known about since 1831.

Perhaps Dick Durbin should reconsider the $46,000 in political contributions he received from dirty coal last year.

While Sen. Durbin's eyes are really on the prize of "38 billion tons of coal" that sit under our feet in the Illinois coal basin, as he declared at a FutureGen rally, he is missing the green revolution of renewable energy that is sweeping the rest of the nation.