Coal To Liquid Fuel Debate Continues

By: Jon Sonnheim Email
By: Jon Sonnheim Email

If someone told you they knew how to improve America's economy, create new jobs, make the environment cleaner, and cut our dependence on foreign oil, you might think this miracle process was too good to be true, but many people believe coal to liquid fuel is the solution we're all looking for.

It does seem like a miracle cure especially now with gas prices so high and many saying our country's in the midst of an energy crisis. But not everyone agrees coal to liquid fuel is the answer. Some believe the startup costs will be astronomical and the process will actually harm the environment. All of this will undoubtedly come to a head this coming week, when the U.S. Congress meets to discuss these topics.

They call themselves America's Energy Capital and some have wondered if Pike County, Kentucky could become the Saudi Arabia of the West.

"We have the answer here in these hills and bowels of earth here in Eastern Kentucky," said Pike County Judge Executive Wayne Rutherford.

Not many debate that coal is the lifeblood that fuels Eastern Kentucky, but many are now saying that same coal could fuel the entire country if coal to liquid fuel plants were built. It's actually technology that's been around for nearly 80 years, used in Germany in World War II and in South Africa.

"You have zero emissions, you're going to solve the energy problem, and you're not gonna pollute the atmosphere," Rutherford said.

"It's about as clean a fuel as you can possibly make for transportation today," said Dr. Burtron Davis, Associate Director of the UK Lab.

But environmentalists argue it's not that simple. They say these plants could double the amount of greenhouses gases currently produced by petroleum. In fact, some believe it's drawn a dividing line between those wishing to reduce dependence on foreign oil and those looking to reduce global warming.

"They're talking about spending three billion dollars for a plant to convert this coal to coal fuel. Why not put that money to some other use for alternative energy," said Brenda Urias.

Several prominent Republican and Democratic Congressman as well as those representing the coal industry and coal producing states, are pushing hard for coal to liquid fuel plants. There have also been discussions of tax incentives for companies that construct these expensive plants such as government subsidies and 25 year military contracts for transportation fuel.

"The special interests almost every time outweigh the public interest and that's dangerous for our democracy," said Former Vice President Al Gore.

So in the coming months, lawmakers will decide whether to go green or as one company's advertising campaign says, turn Middle America into the Middle East.

It appears Governor Fletcher will call a special legislative session this summer to try and pass a bill that will provide tax incentives to companies interested in clean energy technology, but this is certainly a very important and divisive topic that we're sure to hear more about in the coming weeks and months.

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