Thursday, October 27, 2005

Brian Schweitzer in TIME on energy policy for this country

In our quest to cover all things Schweitzer, we would be remiss not to mention the recent TIME article that contained information on Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer's quest to aid in the development of U.S. energy policy:
Sunday, Oct. 23, 2005
Coal is Back
Long dismissed as backwards and dirty, some new (and not-so-new) technologies are turning the rock into black gold

At a Defense Department briefing this spring for the nation's governors on potential future international conflicts, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer was intrigued by one war scenario. In the hypothetical case, conflict with an oil-exporting nation interrupted U.S. petroleum supplies and forced reliance on alternative energy sources that have yet to exist. The official's message: Leaders should think about tomorrow's needs today. If mining states could make gasoline from abundant coal, for example, the military would buy every drop. "That piqued my interest," says Schweitzer, whose state may hold about a third of the United States' coal deposits. Now he's spreading the word. Schweizter has campaigned aggressively all year to launch such a project. "I have people contacting us weekly, saying 'We want in.'"

Talk about back to the future: Coal, the miracle fossil fuel that jumpstarted the industrial age, but has been viewed in recent decades as backwards and dirty, is hot once again. Technology and economics may be aligning to make the black rock more useful and economically efficient than ever. And guess what: the U.S. has more of it than any place else­27 percent of the world's total. Coal-burning power plants fuel half of the nation's electricity. That was true even during the 1990s, when utilities built plants that burn cleaner natural gas. Back then, natural gas, which cost a quarter what it does today, was viewed as the bankable alternative souce for electricity generation. Now, coal is the darling. More than 120 new plants have been proposed and domestic and international demand are soaring.

But what fires up Schweitzer and a growing number of industrialists is an 80 year-old chemical trick that actually allows coal to run cars. The process, in which coal is converted into synthetic gasoline or diesel, was first developed by two German scientists in 1928, allowing Nazi Germany to produce more than 124,000 barrels a day in 1944, the last full year of World War II. Sasol, a South African firm, has the only existing large-scale plants, and operates in 20 countries. In the U.S. advocates have suggested for decades that "coal-to-liquid" production is a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil. At least nine other states are looking into it, including Illinois, West Virginia and Arizona...

...Schweitzer acknowledges some concerns environmentalists and others have about developing state land, but still argues coal-to-diesel plants can be developed with smokestack-free potential. The Billings-based Northern Plains Resource Council says that Schweitzer has not realistically confronted the emissions of heavy metals and other pollution from the would-be plant.

Like most schemes for strengthening the nation's energy options, Schweitzer's is equal parts pie-in-the-sky, politically impractical, prohibitively expensive­and worthy of consideration. . "We don't respond to vision in this country. We respond to crisis," he says. "This is big thinking for a farm boy. But if not Montana, who? And if not now, when?"
For the rest of the article, go here.


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