Joe Romm at Climate Progress has a fascinating story about a US Congressional inquiry into the cancellation of the FutureGen project, a massive demonstration of an integrated, commercial-scale clean coal plant (discussed earlier on LP).
Staffers of the majority (Democratic) members of Congress on the House Science and Technology committee put together a rather extensive report into the issue; the press release announcing the report gets to the crux of the matter:
The report was the result of staff review of thousands of DOE internal documents. That review found that former Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman strongly disliked the project, but to keep the President’s initiative alive, he reconfigured it into a competition under which private companies would be paid to add a CCS component to their IGCC plants. Bodman publicly claimed that the restructured FutureGen would cost less but would result in multiple clean coal demonstrations and expedite the development of clean coal technology. But he was warned numerous times by staff that industry would not respond favorably because participation was not financially advantageous – warnings that were borne out when the Department received only four applications for the new competition. None of them were for IGCC plants, and two of them were not even responsive to DOE’s solicitation.
While it’s important to keep in mind this was put together by Democrats looking for a political angle, their report paints a pretty convincing picture that the Energy Secretary (a member of the Bush Cabinet) was looking for an excuse – any excuse – to kill the project, despite being repeatedly told that FutureGen was essential if carbon capture technology was going to be commercially viable by 2020 or so. He then proposed a “plan B” that had no hope of getting up; the kind of bureaucratic maneuver typically used to disguise killing a policy. In the process, the FutureGen project’s international partners – including Australia – were left completely in the lurch (yet another example of the Howard government getting shafted by the Bush White House, incidentally).
But there’s a broader question here. While it’s beyond the scope of the report, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that industry was lobbying to save the project. That’s just bizarre. Whatever senior executives in the coal industry personally think about climate change, they’d have to be completely moronic to think that carbon regulation isn’t coming. Here was a chance to get the US government to fund a large chunk of the technology that holds out the only hope for the long-term future of their industry. But they were happy to let their lackeys in the Bush White House kill it.