Obama admin balks at much-touted clean-coal project

Reuters / Stringer
The Obama administration has canceled $1 billion in funding for the FutureGen project, a flagship clean-coal initiative aimed at refitting a coal-fired power plant in Illinois in order to store carbon dioxide underground.

Overall, the project was to cost about $1.65 billion, but administration officials said that its guaranteed funding – pledged as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package – was contingent on private investment that has not yet materialized.

The FutureGen Alliance, made up of companies invested in the project, said they would not be able to make up the lost money themselves.

"The federal funding was the key component," FutureGen spokesman Lawrence Pacheco said, adding that the US Department of Energy told the alliance the project would not be able to realistically use the federal funds by the September deadline anyway, the Associated Press reported.

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The Department of Energy made the announcement Tuesday, as spokesman Bill Gibbons said the funding was suspended "in order to best protect taxpayer interests."

"The project is poised for success and the Department stands to be instrumental in completing it," the Energy Dept. wrote.

Some $116.5 million had been spent by the department on the power plant and $86 million on the underground storage site, AP reported.

The Obama administration has consistently stated its support of clean-coal technology, and the power plant near Meredosia in western Illinois has been touted as a prime example of carbon sequestration technology.

The 2009 stimulus money revived the project after it was first announced in 2003 to be a new 275-megawatt coal-fired plant that captured carbon emissions and stored them underground. The plan was halted in 2008, then became part of a scaled-down effort to retrofit the Meredosia plant that would funnel carbon into a 175-mile pipeline that led to an underground storage site.

Just in September, the US Environmental Protection Agency issued permits for FutureGen to begin storing carbon, a step that was called a milestone for the project by the FutureGen Alliance.

The alliance has lost members, including several power companies, since the revamped project was announced, according to AP.

“This is a huge disappointment for both Central Illinois and supporters of clean coal technology” said US Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois.

“A decade-long bipartisan effort made certain that federal funding was available for the FutureGen Alliance to engage in a large-scale carbon-capture demonstration project. But, the project has always depended on a private commitment and can’t go forward without it.”

Advocates of the clean-coal approach voiced displeasure with the project’s collapse.

“The Obama Administration is engaging in misleading double-talk on clean coal technology,” said Laura Sheehan, senior vice president for communications for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. “Although the administration leaned heavily on FutureGen technologies to justify its flawed New Source Performance Standards rule, President Obama has now cut the project off altogether -- demonstrating his hypocrisy towards the American people and his bias against advanced clean coal technologies.

“President Obama and his federal agencies are clearly opposed to advancing carbon capture and storage technology, despite repeated assurances,” Sheehan added.

“What makes this action even more disgraceful is then-Senator Obama’s full-throated support for FutureGen in 2006.”