Energy becomes battleground

Energy becomes battleground

By Joe Baker

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

The Republican-dominated Congress has drawn poor marks from environmental groups for its failure to promote a sound energy policy which emphasizes renewable energy sources.

In recent debate in the Senate, Sen. Richard Durbin castigated his colleagues for bowing to the will of the automakers and oil magnates.

Durbin told the Senate in part: “This is going to drag us into political tight fixes and situations around the world where American lives will be at stake because the Senate does not have the courage to stand up and say to the American people: we need to give real leadership; to say to the Big Three in Detroit: you can do a better job, you can make better cars and trucks, and we challenge you to do it over a period of time; and to say to the American people: yes, you may not be able to buy the fattest, biggest SUV that can come out of your dream sequence, but we believe you can have a vehicle that is safe and fuel efficient for you and your family and your business.

“We were unwilling to do that—too much to ask of the American people to consider that possibility. I looked at some of the comments that were written and said on the floor, suggesting that the American people are just too self-centered to be prepared to make any sacrifices for the good of this country. How could anybody start with that premise after what we have seen since September 11?”

Durbin said the energy bill in its present form is not acceptable. Republicans generally have tended to impede any moves that would lessen our dependence on foreign oil.

As the energy debate continues, court orders forcing disclosure of some of the doings of Vice-President Richard Cheney’s energy task force, have brought out some questionable actions by the Bush administration.

Recently released documents showed Bush and company took $135,615 from the Department of Energy’s budget to pay for printing copies of the White House energy plan.

The Bushites spent another $1,317.39 of the budget to produce 16 briefing boards for administration officials to use in explaining the energy plan. Another $176 came out of the energy conservation program to finance a trip to Alaska by Andrew Lundquist, staff director of the White House energy task force.

At the same time, the administration was urging Congress to cut the budget for renewable energy research by 50 percent.

Against this national backdrop, the state of Illinois is planning on a 10-year program of energy conservation employing what some see as a miracle crop and a potential boon to the state’s farmers.

That crop is switchgrass, a native prairie grass common to much of the country. The state plans to grow it on 30,000 acres at Havanna, west of Peoria.

“Our business is to turn grass into cash,” said John Caveny of Environmentally Correct Concepts, Inc. The company, based in Monticello, is involved in two biomass projects, the one in Havanna and another in Oklahoma.

One of the first demonstration projects in the country was in Ottumwa, in southeastern Iowa. There switchgrass is co-fired with coal in the Ottumwa Generating Station.

One of the project goals is to produce 40,000 to 50,000 tons of grass annually to replace 5 to 10 percent of the coal that normally would be used.

The government sees the project as helping to produce a cleaner environment once the grass is widely used.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!