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Bush energy plan includes coal-burning power plants

Coal industry officials say coal is an important part of the nation's future  

CHARLESTON, West Virginia (CNN) -- President Bush's long-range energy plan includes the use of more coal-burning plants, a proposal that some experts say might help avoid an energy crisis and that critics say would harm the environment.

Possibly offsetting criticism, the Bush administration wants to spend $2 billion on research into so-called clean coal technology aimed at reducing dirty emissions from coal-burning power plants.

Industry officials say more emphasis on coal is important to the nation's future.

"We need to have, in the United States, energy independence from the rest of the world," said Stuart Solomon of American Electric Power, one of the nation's largest coal-fueled power producers. "Coal is one of the major ways that we can do that, along with the other fuel sources that are emphasized in the plan -- natural gas, nuclear and a growing and important role for renewable power.

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"We think that's positive because it's for the next generation -- the future generation of coal plants that will be not only more efficient but more environmentally friendly," he said.

Some environmental activists disagree. "There's no such thing as clean coal," said Vivian Stockman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "To get coal -- number one -- you have to extract it ... and in West Virginia that means mountaintop removal."

In coal-rich West Virginia, mountaintop mining began more than two decades ago and has resulted in the disappearance of about 300,000 acres of tree-lined mountaintops and the burying of at least 750 miles of streams. The industry says it repairs the damage to the land by replanting it after the coal is removed. But critics say mining is also removing a way of life.

"If you had any conscience at all, this wouldn't happen," said activist Larry Gibson. "We would find other sources of energy instead of trying to destroy our back yard."

Stuart Solomon of American Electric Power says the Bush energy plan will make the next generation of coal-burning power plants more efficient and environmentally friendly  

But coal industry officials say coal is an important part of the nation's future. "What I think is commendable about the president's plan is he's not trying to address a near-term crisis," said Dale Heydlauff, senior vice president of environmental affairs for American Electric Power. "He is instead trying to develop a rational, longer-term energy policy for this country."

American Electric Power is the largest generator of electricity in the United States, and the largest consumer of coal. In 1998, the company burned 54 million tons of coal to produce relatively cheap electric power.

But according to the Environmental Protection Agency, American Electric Power's John E. Amos plant in West Virginia was the largest polluter in the state, producing 19.1 million pounds of emissions a year. Federal standards have forced the company to install a system designed to eliminate between 85 percent and 90 percent of nitrous oxide emissions.

CNN Correspondent Eileen O'Connor contributed to this report.

• American Electric Power Company
• Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
• U.S. Department of Energy
• Environmental Protection Agency

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