Will Feds War on Coal Thwart US Energy Independence?

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It's being call a "War on Coal." The Obama administration denies it, but the industry is fighting for its future against new federal regulations.

Coal is getting more expensive to mine and those tough new regulations are scaring potential investors away from groundbreaking projects.

One of those projects is the Adams Fork Coal to Liquid plant in Mingo County, W.Va.

Developer Adam Victor, with TransGas Development Systems, believes it could literally change how the United States does business.

"The refinery that we're going to build that will take coal and build gasoline, will do it cheaper and cleaner than taking petroleum and making gasoline," he explained.

America is the world's number one importer of crude oil, holding that title for almost 50 years. Much of that oil becomes gasoline to keep our cars and trucks running. When the price of oil goes up, so does the price at the pump.

Road to Energy Independence?

But what if we have what it takes to make gasoline right here in the United States? According to the B.P. Review of World Energy, we do, in the form of the word's largest coal reserves.

The developers of the Adams Fork Energy Plant say converting coal into liquid fuel will pave the way towards energy independence. Their goal is to produce 250 million gallons of methanol that could be used as gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuel, and more.

The plant should already be up and running, but project coordinators say after years of fighting federal regulations, the targeted opening date is now not until 2016.

They say the Environmental Protection Agency continues to scare investors.

Project coordinators say coal investments have been labeled as risky. The Obama administration portrays it as a dirty energy source, while the EPA piles on new regulations.

The EPA justified its actions to CBN News with the following statement:

"EPA's ongoing challenge is to address pollution from coal and take steps to protect our nation's children and families from toxic air pollutants like mercury, arsenic, and nickel - pollutants that put Americans, especially children, at risk for developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses like asthma."

The EPA's Imaginary Problem

But Victor called the EPA statement inaccurate.

"The EPA and environmentalists are creating a problem that doesn't exist," he charged. "I just came back from Ulan Bator in Mongolia. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't breath because of the burning of coal in Soviet era-style power plants. That's pollution."

"That is something that should be outlawed, banned, remediated," he said. "We don't have that issue over here. And we basically have the highest standard of living in the world and we still have beautiful pristine skies."

Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association agreed, saying Washington doesn't recognize the industry's progress.

"It's got a long history and people rely on that history to refer to it as a dirty fossil fuel, and you do," Raney said. "You get your hands black when you touch it, and its dusty. But we've learned how to control the dust and you know we're getting better every day at that."

Once the Adams Fork Plant is up and running, Victor said it will be strong proof of clean coal technology, by almost zero emissions.

Mingo County welcomes this new opportunity. It's been prepared for a liquid-to-coal plant for years. As Victor searched for a place to build, Mingo County came up with the land and infrastructure needed for the project.

"Picking southern West Virginia, Mingo County in particular, has been such a God-send for us," Steve Kominar, executive director of the Mingo County Re-Development Authority, said.

"The last 20 years we've prepared for this moment, not knowing what this moment was going to be, in our minds, in our dreams, in our visions," he said.

Reviving the Local Economy

State and local leaders say the liquid coal plant will revive the local economy and bring thousands of jobs to the area.

Residents agree and hope their families will stay put instead of moving out of state to find work.

"Some of our best and brightest leave here. Because we don't have opportunities for them in their chosen profession or occupation or vocation, they go elsewhere," Kominar explained. "And we're trying to create that market here so our kids don't have to leave."

The Adams Fork Plant will bring in more than 3,000 jobs during construction over the next four to five years. Three hundred people will work full time when it's complete.

Victor said he hopes Adams Fork and two proposed plants in Kentucky could eventually lead to a national synthetic fuels program.

Realistically, however, he said that's an impossible dream as long as long as the EPA exists in its current form.

"When people oppose the coal industry they should really think long and hard and take a history lesson on how important that coal and that steel has been to American civilization and American freedom and the freedom of all Western democracies," Victor told CBN News.

"The Panama Canal was built by steel that was made from coal that came from West Virginia," he said. "Imagine the world without the Panama Canal. And by the way, if you had an EPA, do you think you could have permitted the Panama Canal?"

*Originally aired July 24, 2012.

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