COLUMN: What is he thinking?: A post-election look at Blagojevich’s conflicting energy scams

By Emma Claire Sohn

On Nov. 6, the day before midterm elections, Gov. Rod Blagojevich released a statement with plans to make Illinois a more self-sufficient state in energy consumption. The Governor’s new ideas for Illinois revolve around changing the way we consume coal, a fossil fuel plentiful in our state, by converting it to a more applicable, gaseous form which can be used as a substitute for natural gas, diesel fuel, or electricity.

According to the Illinois Government News Network, the $775 million dollar plan calls for the construction of ten coal gasification plants across the state which will be connected to the Illinois oil basin via a one-hundred mile CO2 pipeline. In a process called carbon sequestration, the pipeline will remove the carbon dioxide emitted in these plants and transport it underground where the harmful emissions will be stored, while subsequently aiding in the extraction of oil from our substantial underground fields. This plan will effectively provide the state with two domestic fossil fuels in one process.

Although there are inevitable environmental implications behind these plans including the possibility of groundwater infiltration, complete drainage of Illinois aquifers and natural water sources, wasted energy, inevitable pollution and detrimental effects to the natural plants and wildlife across the state, these methods are currently the most efficient and environmentally-friendly applications of coal as an energy source.

The plentiful amount of coal in our state and its revised applications are coupled nicely in this plan with new technologies in controlling the CO2 emissions released in coal consumption. This combination makes Blagojevich’s plan an appealing short-term solution to our energy crisis.

But this wasn’t Blagojevich’s first stance on coal use in the state. According to an Aug. 30, press release published by the Illinois Government News Network, the Environmental Protection Agency recently approved plans for a new Prairie State Energy Campus, a 1500-watt plant to be the “largest private capital project ever planned for Southern Illinois.” The IGNN also cites the potential plant as the largest American coal plant built within the past 20 years.

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    While this plant will contribute to our local economy, its environmental implications will act to the detriment of the global community. This gigantic plant will pose the same environmental risks as Blagojevich’s new plans for coal gasification and carbon sequestration with the added effect of the CO2 emissions eliminated under the plan released Nov. 6.

    Call me old fashioned, but if I were a gubernatorial incumbent mired by corruption, I would not spend the day before the election releasing a revised energy policy. Maybe I would be kissing a symbolic baby, possibly even chomping down a hot dog, but not releasing scientific mumbo-jumbo on carbon sequestration, a phrase most voters can not even pronounce. Was this press release perhaps one final attempt to win back environmentally conscious votes from Green candidate Rich Whitney on the eve of the election?

    Not only are the motives behind Blagojevich’s recent press release questionable, but his plans are lofty at best. The August 2006 approval for the Prairie State Energy Campus seems a much more likely direction for Illinois coal. Carbon sequestration is still a relatively new and developing concept, and Blagojevich’s proposed completion of ten coal gasification plants in ten years under a $775 million dollar budget is unrealistically ambitious.

    It is time for both our state and federal governments to look beyond the immediate future and invest in a more progressive energy policy. New developments like carbon sequestration are impressive, but when it comes down to it, coal is yet another dwindling natural resource which will be entirely depleted in a matter of time. We need to contribute funding to areas such as solar and wind power in order to sustain a future for Illinois. Gov. Rod Blagojevich should stop masking the truth behind Illinois coal and pursue a renewable solution to our energy addiction.