Clean coal a good goal for this session

January 21, 2009
Dallas Morning News, (TX)

Coal became a consuming controversy during the 2007 legislative session. The specter of 16 coal-fired power plants spewing pollutants spawned a slew of bills and had opponents lining up at the Capitol.

Two years later, coal is back and ready for battle.

But this time, lawmakers are touting a cleaner, greener version of the fossil fuel. An assortment of legislators is backing a promising bill that would give tax breaks to companies building clean-coal plants that capture greenhouse gases. Even former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, the pied piper of coal opponents, stands foursquare behind this proposal.

Others who were on opposite sides two years ago also have found common ground, agreeing that constructing gasification power plants is an important opportunity for Texas.

Unlike traditional coal facilities, these – called “integrated gasification combined cycle” power plants – capture and store most of their carbon dioxide emissions. The state, which emits more carbon than most countries, has a chance to be an early adopter and to show that coal done right can be part of the clean-energy mix.

But unless legislators sign off on tax breaks and other incentives, utilities will be hesitant to take on the risks associated with a new technology. Gasification remains relatively untested in the United States and is significantly more expensive than old-fashioned, pollution-intensive plants.

More worrisome should be those traditional coal plants; it’s a question of when – not if – Congress will regulate greenhouse gases. So, Texas, the carbon king, must begin to consider a new approach to energy.

Thus far, Austin has balked at making tough decisions to further restrict pollution. More should be done to strengthen environmental regulations and spur renewable energy production.

But it’s encouraging that incentives for clean energy have begun to get traction. Lawmakers should pass this gasification legislation, recognizing that it is just one piece of Texas energy puzzle.