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Administration Says Use of Clean Coal Likely to be Delayed

May 8, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Reagan administration acknowledged Wednesday that its reluctance to help finance clean-coal demonstration projects will likely hamper environmentally acceptable uses of the fuel in the 1990s.

″It’s undoubtedly true that if you pour millions of dollars into it (the demonstration projects) you will accelerate the use of coal by utilities,″ Assistant Energy Secretary William Vaughan told a House subcommittee. ″The question is: ’Is that the wisest use of federal funds?‴

Vaughan, defending the administration’s reluctance to spend any of the $750 million that Congress set aside last year for developing clean-coal technologies, said the government’s role should be limited to long-term, high- risk research.

″We should not be involved in any commercialization effort, something that the government does not do well, as the track record shows,″ he said.

Vaughan didn’t specify any projects, but the government has poured nearly $1.5 billion into the problem-plagued Great Plains coal gasification plant in North Dakota.

And two years ago, Congress decided to abandon the Clinch River breeder reactor in Tennessee after having spent $2.5 billion in taxpayer money on it.

Vaughan made the remarks in response to recommendations this month from an Energy Department research advisory board calling for the government to spend up to $2.4 billion over the next five to seven years to help finance about a dozen projects demonstrating new clean coal technologies.

″Coal use is going to increase,″ said Eric Reichel, who chaired the advisory panel and is a director of the government’s Synthetic Fuels Corp. ″It’s not increasing use that is our concern, but cleaning up that use.″

Reichel said government-financed research has successfully help develop coal-burning technologies for reducing nitrogen and sulfur-related air pollution that is blamed for acid rain.

But he said electric utilities responsible for about 70 percent of the nation’s coal lack the resources, particularly since their spending is often dictated by public utility commissions, to test the technologies on a commercial scale without government help.

Reichel’s recommendation that the government finance about one-third of the cost for such demonstration projects was greeted with enthusiasm by the House panel.

″There has been a lot of taxpayer money spent on researching energy technologies and those technologies are still sitting on the shelf,″ said Rep. Claudine Schneider, R-R.I.

The administration, however, was criticized because a companion report it sent Congress on clean-coal technologies did not attempt to rank them in importance or applicability.

Rep. Doug Walgren, D-Pa., accused the administration of refusing to rank the technologies, as Congress directed last year, because it philosophically opposes aiding their commercial development.

″It’s not up to an administrator to refuse to cooperate,″ Walgren lectured Vaughan. ″Congress ordered the study and the president signed the bill. You can say until you’re blue in the face that the government should not participate, but that’s not for you to decide.″

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