Sen. Salazar in Craig to talk up energy bill

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The $12 billion energy bill President Bush signed last week provides nearly $700 million for research and development of coal-related technology.

In parts of the country such as Moffat County, where coal is big business, that could mean new markets for coal.

"Coal is to the U.S. what oil is to Saudi Arabia or oil is to Iraq," Sen. Ken Salazar said Monday.

Salazar discussed the energy bill with about 30 local politicians and residents Monday at the Shadow Mountain Clubhouse in Craig.

Included in the 1,700-page energy bill is a provision providing $600 million for a coal gasification plant in the West.

Salazar amended the bill last month to include high-altitude coal, such as the low-sulfur coal found in Moffat County, in a gasification test program.

Coal gasification involves combining coal with oxygen and steam in a high-pressure, high-temperature facility. The process turns the coal into a variety of substances, including synthetic natural gas, hydrogen and methanol. The chemicals created also can be used for diesel fuel.

"I know how important coal resources are for this part of the state," Salazar said.

He said he hopes the gasification plant is built in Colorado, but he said other senators have the same hopes for their states.

Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray said after Salazar's discussion that Moffat County would be an ideal location for a gasification plant because the area has more water than other parts of the region. Gasification requires large amounts of water.

"I would love to see that plant here," Gray said.

Salazar said the bill will help develop renewable energy and mandate conservation requirements, which he said will decrease the country's dependence on foreign oil.

"Until we become independent of the strangle hold from these Middle Eastern countries, our America is very much at risk," Salazar said.

The bill provides incentives for renewable energy such as bio-diesel fuel and ethanol, as well as development of oil shale.

Some people at Monday's discussion thought the bill focused too much on fossil fuel development.

"I was disappointed where they ended up with it," Luke Schafer with the Colorado Wilderness Network said after the discussion.

He said the bill focused too much on oil and gas, which are prone to boom and bust cycles, and not enough on other forms of energy.

Salazar said after the discussion that he was happy with the bill, but it could have gone further.

"It's a good bill, not a perfect bill," Salazar said. "It could have been a better bill."

After Monday's discussion, Salazar met with all three county commissioners and Moffat County Natural Resource director Jeff Comstock.

The commissioners discussed payment in lieu of taxes, veteran's issues and R.S. 2477 road claims with the senator.

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