Comprehensive Energy Bill
Congressman Rick Boucher
“I want to say thank you to Charles Ellis and Barbara Altizer and to the others who are the leaders of the Eastern Coal Council for hosting this annual Eastern Coal Conference, an opportunity that I look forward to on an annual basis,” said Congressman Rick Boucher in delivering the opening address to the Eastern Coal Council 24th Annual Conference and Expo held at the Meadowview Convention Center, Kingsport, Tennessee. “This is a forum in which we can address a number of the policy debates that are going on in Washington that are of direct interest to Americans, to America’s energy industry in general, and to the coal industry in particular.”
Boucher addressed two issues which are prominent on the congressional agenda, the Energy Bill, and modifications to the Clean Air Act. Boucher explained that in April of this year, the House passed H.R. 6 which is the House version of the comprehensive energy legislation recommended in large part by the Bush Administration. At the core of the bill, according to Boucher, are the measures that relate to coal. Boucher feels that the bill has a far better chance of achieving enactment into law than did a similar measure that was considered during the last Congress. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the measure to open the Arctic Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas development has been missed out. The second is that some of the more controversial elements that alter the laws governing the wholesale electricity market have now also been left out.
“Over the next two decades it is estimated that, the growing demand for electricity will result in the construction of perhaps as many as 1900 new electricity generating plants across the United States,” said Boucher. “It is also currently estimated that, even given a higher price for natural gas in recent years, as many as 90% of these 1900 new electricity generating plants will be fueled with natural gas. That level of gas usage will injure the American economy. One half of all homes in the United States are heated with natural gas today and the increase in price that was indicated by that dramatic increase of demand for natural gas would badly disadvantage homeowners across the country.”
The answer is to encourage coal use for many of these facilities. Coal is now the most abundant energy resource with sufficient reserves for the next 250 years. Also consumers get the best bargain when they purchase electricity generated from coal-fired facilities. “The use of coal will relieve the pricing pressure of natural gas while simultaneously promoting American energy independence,” said Boucher. The approach would be to provide a series of tax credits to electric utilities that install a new generation of clean coal technologies, which would enable coal to be burned as cheaply as natural gas.
Another goal that Boucher said was being pursued in HR 6 is to make coal the preferred source for hydrogen which will be the power for fuel cells which in turn will propel cars and also be used in the future for the generation of electricity. Fuel cells offer an enormous new opportunity for the coal industry nationwide in order to enjoy a new market and to expand the use of coal from electricity generation and steel manufacturing into the transportation sector as well.
To achieve this goal it creates a new $2 billion research and development program that will promote a new generation of coal gasification technologies which will prove, over the long-term, the most economical source of hydrogen. Coal gasification offers a promising, constructive way to address climate change concerns through the sequestering of CO2, but also promoting far greater coal use.
Boucher turned to this second topic, the focus of the Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality on possible amendments to the Clean Air Act. He referred to President Bush’s Clear Skies Initiative and the credit trade program for NOx and mercury modeled on the program enacted in 1990 for sulfur dioxide. First, he will ensure that the views of the coal industry are solicited by the Subcommittee and that they are well understood by the Subcommittee’s members before any action is taken on the President’s Clear Skies Initiative. In particular, he said that it is essential that any reductions in NOx or mercury be achieved in a manner that will not disadvantage the coal industry generally and the low sulfur portion of the coal industry in particular. The second thing mentioned by Boucher with regard to the Clean Air Act is the ongoing focus provided by some members of Congress on threat of global warming and the steps that Congress ought to be taking or not taking that would address those concerned.
Boucher said that he thought it was critically important that H.R. 6, the comprehensive energy bill, not contain any mandatory controls on carbon dioxide. Even more vigilance is required with regard to household limits to the Clean Air Act because that is the vehicle where it is likely to see a concentrated effort made in order to adopt a mandatory control program for carbon dioxide.
“I think that the United States should engage the international community with regard to how to address in a positive way the long term concerns associated with carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions but it has to be on a truly multilateral basis, not just in terms of participation and negotiation but in terms of a willingness to bear the responsibility for taking whatever steps over the long term have to happen and have to be taken,” says Boucher. “My goal in the short term is to make sure that Congress doesn’t do anything that would impose a unilateral mandatory program here in the United States prior to this longer term international collaboration and treaty formulation process that can hopefully lead to a more positive, equitable, and effective result than was achieved in the proposed Kyoto Treaty.
Boucher referred to the difficulty that some operators on surface mine sites are now having in obtaining affordable bonds for reclamation. “I am hoping that a series of discussions within the coal industry and the insurance industry that are scheduled very shortly can be successful in addressing this concern but if they are not, by the middle of this summer, then I intend to propose that the U.S. Congress take whatever action is necessary to ensure a continued vitality for the surface mining industry,” said Boucher. cl
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