State Journal Register

July 3, 2001

House bill introduced to promote clean coal 
  Shimkus is among sponsors of measure 

By DORI MEINERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON - A bipartisan group of House members, including Reps. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, and Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, Tuesday introduced a bill aimed at helping the nation's struggling coal industry.

The bill would accelerate research into clean-coal technology and would create tax incentives for emission reductions at existing coal-fired generating plants.

Coal-burning plants currently produce more than half of the nation's electricity.

"As our most abundant source of energy in this country, we must look at ways to continue using coal as the major electricity-generating fuel of the future, in clean plants," Shimkus said at a Capitol Hill press conference.

Costello pledged to try to include the research provisions in a broader energy package before the House Science Committee later this week. He said the measure could ultimately decrease U.S. reliance on foreign oil, while increasing domestic energy supplies.

The House measure, which would provide $1 billion over 10 years for clean-coal research, is supported by lawmakers from other coal-producing states, including Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.

"Scientists say within 10 years we'll be able to deal with this issue" of reducing air-polluting emissions from coal-fired plants, said Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio.

Coal received a boost earlier this year when President Bush called for $2 billion to be invested in clean coal technology over 10 years.

The Senate's switch to Democratic control also gives momentum to a similar, but not identical Senate bill introduced by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who now chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, blasted the Senate bill for attempting to exempt coal-fired plants from Clean Air Act requirements.

"The bill would have the perverse effect of offering incentives to convert a clean, natural gas plant to a far dirtier coal system and incentives to build a dirtier coal plan rather than a cleaner natural gas plant," the Sierra Club argues on its Web site.

The House measure doesn't contain the Clean Air Act exemptions. Its main sponsor, Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said he didn't want to bog down the bill.

There was no immediate comment from the Sierra Club.

However, Illinois Coal Association President Taylor Pensoneau praised the House effort.

"There's no question regarding coal in general and Illinois coal in particular that the more environmentally friendly we make our product, the better off we'll be," Pensoneau said.

Illinois currently has 4,500 people employed in the coal mining industry compared to 18,000 in 1980. The state's coal mines, found mostly in southern and central Illinois, suffered when Clean Air Act
requirements made the high-sulfur coal too polluting to burn cheaply.

Illinois Gov. George Ryan recently signed into law a $3.5 billion incentive package for the coal industry. Ryan and Durbin hosted a roundtable discussion in May to focus on coal industry needs.