In large swaths of the liberal/progressive community, any mention of coal when it comes to energy policy is immediately met with a reflexive disdain, as the substance brings up images of soot-spewing smoke stacks of eras past. But out here in Montana, our governor, Brian Schweitzer (D), is pioneering a new coal policy that would harness coal's potential while also moving America toward a cleaner energy policy all around.
In a New York Times op-ed today, Gov. Schweitzer explains exactly how this would all work through his coal-to-liquid-fuel initiative and the well-established Fisher-Tropsch process. If America made an investment in this technology, Schweitzer says America could regain domestic "control over the price of gas, dissolve the oil bonds that tie us to the Middle East, and create wealth and jobs that would remain on American soil."
This is not hyperbole. In Montana alone, taxpayers own coal that could be converted to the "liquid fuel equivalent of one-quarter of the oil underlying the Middle East." And for environmentalists, while the technology is not perfect, there is a huge upside in comparison to our current energy policy:
'"Synfuels' have remarkable properties: they are high-performing substances that run in existing engines without any technical modifications, and they burn much more cleanly than conventional fuels. The synfuel process, which is nothing like conventional coal use, removes greenhouse gases as well as toxins like sulfur, mercury and arsenic. And the technology has other applications: a synfuel plant can generate electric power, make synthetic natural gas, and produce the hydrogen that many (including President Bush) believe is the energy source of the future."
As I have previously written, China is already pushing forward with massive investments in this technology, and if America doesn't follow suit, our biggest economic competitor will have a serious advantage over us for years to come - namely, the ability to control their own energy future. Yet, with the clowns in Washington, D.C. more focused on giving already-wealthy oil companies new tax breaks for old-style drilling, there is a void of national leadership in harnessing America's vast domestic energy resources.
That's why Schweitzer's Fischer-Tropsch initiative, with its eye towards making our energy policy more environmentally-friendly, is so important: Because his efforts show that even though the Washington, D.C. political establishment is bought off by Big Oil, there is plenty of opportunity for states and communities to lead America towards a better, greener, more sustainable energy policy. Coal-to-liquid-fuel, coupled with burgeoning efforts on wind, ethanol, wave, and other alternatives, proves the raw materials are out there. It is just a matter of politicians like Schweitzer and others showing a willingness to stand up to the traditional Big Money powers that be. That's what's usually called "leadership" - and its time for some on energy.