Houston (Tex.) Chronicle [Printer-friendly version] August 19, 2007 COAL-TO-FUEL PUSH AN UPHILL BATTLE Wall Street, environmental backers and Congress all have reservations By Tim Huber, Associated Press DANIELS, W.VA. -- One theme dominated discussion last week at an industry-sponsored conference on turning coal into gasoline and diesel fuel: finding political support for government incentives. There are a dozen or so coal-to-liquid plants in varying states of development around the country. But supporters such as Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., say incentives such as tax credits and loan guarantees are key to quickly creating an industry that can push the nation toward energy independence. "Coal to liquids will happen in this country. It's going to be an evolutionary process. It's going to be a slow process," said Michael Hayes of Sasol North America. Sasol already produces transportation fuel from coal in South Africa. Supporters at the Coal-To-Liquids Coalition conference in Daniels say Wall Street won't finance plants that can cost up to $8 billion without some guarantee of a decent return. The group was created by the National Mining Association. Military use proposed While dozens of protesters rallied outside the conference carrying signs that read "Liquid Coal Destroys Communities" and "No Fuel From My Blood," among others, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., outlined a four-part plan to build a coal-to-liquid industry. He called for military use of coal-based fuel, unity among coal supporters, a "substantial" investment on the scale of the Manhattan Project to attack climate change, and construction of pipelines in Appalachia to transport fuel to users and carbon dioxide to oil and natural gas fields for storage. "Coal, clean coal, must be the solution to our energy needs," Rockefeller said. "It is the only solution to our energy needs. That is what is so ridiculous about all of it. It's what we've got. God gave it to us." Congress seems reluctant to pass incentives, in part because of arguments from the environmental community that fuel made from coal will generate more greenhouse gases than refining crude oil, Rahall said. "It's certainly an uphill battle," Rahall said. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said it's not going to be easy. "The public as a whole believes in environmentally clean air.... It's a tough job to convince them," he said. Labor-industry cooperation United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts said winning will take more cooperation between industry and labor. While both have great individual lobbying power in Washington, Roberts said labor and industry must find a way to work together rather than, for example, supporting competing legislation. A total of 69 senators voted for one measure or the other, Roberts said. "There is a consensus of some type.... We just have to find some uniformity in our approach." Hayes and Murtha said industry also needs support from average Americans. "It's going to be the public demanding that CTL happen and happen quickly," Hayes said. "Then CTL will happen." If the public speaks, Murtha said Congress will listen. "If you're not responsive to the people who elect you, you don't come back."