No winners in FutureGen plant collapse

In a move that made headlines across the country, the Department of Energy recently announced that it was pulling the plug on a revolutionary clean-coal power plant that was set to be built in Mattoon, Ill. Local officials have denounced the move as pure politics on the part of the Bush administration, but the issue isn’t that simple.

The proposed plant has been in the works for five years, but cost estimates have risen to 1.8 billion from 800 million dollars in 2003. The Department of Energy cited these costs – of which it was to be 70 percent responsible for – in its decision to start completely over by getting the private sector to shoulder the cost of building plants that would use the new clean-coal technology.

The Department of Energy says that new plans will be more cost efficient than the FutureGen plant, but that is small consolation to the people of Mattoon who have spent years working to get this project off the ground.

Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell defended the decision in the Chicago Tribune by stating the department could have left the plan to the next administration, thus making it that much harder on Mattoon if it failed.

But it’s obvious that FutureGen floundered quite well under this administration.

While the decision to scrap the plant, at least in the view of some energy experts who doubted the project’s effectiveness, may prove to be the right, there is no doubt that it came far too late in the game.

The move leaves FutureGen, a nonprofit alliance devoted to the project, and the people of Mattoon searching for answers. While the science behind clean-coal was important, the project was hailed an incredible boon to the Illinois economy which, like most of the nation, is going through difficult economic times.

It remains to be seen whether Congress will step in and authorize the project without the backing of the Energy Department.

But it’s obvious that the alliance and the people of Mattoon are entitled to have their voices heard and a better explanation from the federal government after all the years and money each has put into the effort.

For the Department of Energy to reverse course this late in the game shows poor foresight and the kind of bureaucratic callousness that saps citizens’ faith in their government.

The Bush administration has encouraged this country to ease its dependence on foreign energy sources, but when it cannot honorably follow through with plans allowing that, Americans have no choice but to question its judgement, commitment and integrity.

And all the while, the light of hope slowly dims.