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Summer of Corruption: Obama’s billion-dollar earmark for shady Illinois energy boondoggle

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By Michelle Malkin  •  August 10, 2010 01:10 AM

Like so much that emanates from Washington, this latest summer of corruption tale stinks.

Back in February 2009, you may recall that government spending watchdog GOP Sen. Tom Coburn first called attention to a $2 billion earmark in the Obama stimulus bill to re-start FutureGen, a near-zero emissions coal power plant in Illinois that the Dept. of Energy defunded because the project was inefficient. The pet project of disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin ballooned in cost, but survived attempts to kill it. Obama continued to deny the existence of earmarks in the stimulus bill, even as his administration moved forward to dole them all out.

Well, last week, Obama’s Energy Department crowed about a repackaged FutureGen earmark — the biggest in American history at $1 billion:

August 5, 2010
Secretary Chu Announces FutureGen 2.0
Awards $1 Billion in Recovery Act Funding for Carbon Capture and Storage Network in Illinois

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin announced the awarding of $1 billion in Recovery Act funding to the FutureGen Alliance, Ameren Energy Resources, Babcock & Wilcox, and Air Liquide Process & Costruction, Inc. to build FutureGen 2.0, a clean coal repowering program and carbon dioxide (CO2) storage network. The project partners estimate the program will bring 900 jobs to downstate Illinois and another 1,000 to suppliers across the state.

“Today’s announcement will help ensure the US remains competitive in a carbon constrained economy, creating jobs while reducing greenhouse gas pollution,” said Secretary Chu. “This investment in the world’s first, commercial-scale, oxy-combustion power plant will help to open up the over $300 billion market for coal unit repowering and position the country as a leader in an important part of the global clean energy economy.”

“As with the original FutureGen, Mattoon and the state of Illinois are positioned as leaders in innovative technology that can serve as a model for the nation,” said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin. “The new project stays true to the original goal of dramatically reducing pollution and providing thousands of good paying jobs in our state.”

A funny thing happened on the way to the Illinois pay-off, though. While Durbin rushed to secure the money and bragging rights, the people of Mattoon, Illiniois are saying not so fast:

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin demanded Monday that officials in an eastern Illinois town decide by Friday whether they still want it to be part of a futuristic clean-coal project despite radical changes that scrap plans to build an experimental power plant.

…In a letter to Angela Griffin, a local economic developer who has pushed to make Mattoon the home of FutureGen, Durbin said the Department of Energy needs an answer by the end of the week so, if need be, a new site for carbon dioxide storage can be found.

“Make no mistake, Coles County has the right of first refusal and I will support Mattoon if that’s the local consensus,” Durbin wrote. “But, this project which will bring much needed job creation, economic activity, environmental benefits, and more than $1.2 billion in federal funds to the State of Illinois must go forward.”

Griffin, in a written response to a request for comment from The Associated Press, said the community doesn’t want to make a hasty decision.

“We understand the desire to quickly execute this new project for the State of Illinois, but it took our community years to evaluate and embrace the original FutureGen project and we want to give the citizens sufficient time to thoughtfully consider the changed project,” Griffin wrote. She is the president of the Coles Together economic development group.

Discover Magazine suggests the fundamental pointlessness of the new demonstration project boondoggle:

Under the original plan, the high-tech new plant in Mattoon would have turned coal into a clean-burning gas and would then have filtered out the Co2. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois tried to defend this change of course by arguing that bureaucratic and budgetary headaches delayed FutureGen so long that building that kind of plant isn’t worthwhile—gasification isn’t the leading edge technology it was several years ago.

“The heart of this is a research effort,” Durbin said. “It really made no sense to build a power plant to prove what’s already being tested in three or four other commercial facilities” [AP].

The oxygen-burning plant would be more experimental—if it’s ever built. Some trials are going on in Europe, but the New York Times reports that the largest such plant that presently exists creates about 10 megawatts. The Meredosia plant, which is an old oil-burning operation owned by St. Louis energy company Ameren, would create 200 MW if successfully overhauled.

Construction on the whole project is scheduled to start in June 2011, including the pipeline to Mattoon. (Because carbon sequestration requires the right kind of geology, you can’t just stash CO2 underneath wherever your plant might be. So now that the government has moved the “FutureGen 2.0″ across the state, they’re stuck piping the CO2 across Illinois to the location that’s been approved.)

However, with the glacial pace that has plagued FutureGen so far, there’s no reason to think it will be the first of its kind by the time it’s built. (emphasis added)…

The construction of the new pipeline will add at least $200 million to the cost of the dubious, revamped project.

Brian Darling at RedState sums it up:

For months, the Obama Administration and Congress said that the Stimulus language was not an earmark for this company in Illinois. We now know that assertion to be false. The actions yesterday from Secretary of Energy Steven Chu confirm suspicions that this is the biggest earmark in American history. FutureGen in Matoon, Illinois gets $1 billion and average Americans are provided with the bill.

President Obama, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Secretary Chu need to explain to the American people how this happened. How did this earmark get into the Stimulus? Why is the Obama Administration funnelling $1 billion into Illinois for a project of dubious effectiveness. Unemployment today stands at 9.5% and the Stimulus has proven to have had no effect on unemployment rates.

Ths President’s Stimulus is a failure and many on the Hill are concerned about this project as evidence of special treatment for some companies in the President’s home state. This is exactly the type of waste, fraud and abuse that motivate average Americans to join the Tea Party movement to continue to distrust the federal government.

Yep. Remember in November.

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