Mt. Vernon Register-News

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March 15, 2011

Quinn vetoes coal gasification plant

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday vetoed a bill that would have allowed for a coal gasification plant in Jefferson County.

Quinn rejected Senate Bills 1927 and 3388, proposed legislation approved by the Illinois Senate in January that would have allowed a $1 billion Power Holdings of Illinois plant in Jefferson County as well as a $3 billion coal gasification plant on Chicago’s southeast side. Utility companies would have been required to buy synthetic natural gas from the Chicago plant for 30 years and from the one in Jefferson County for 10 years.

Critics said the synthetic natural gas made from coal and refining waste would cost more than natural gas and be passed on to residential customers. They estimated consumers would pay as much as $190 more per year beginning about 2015 and continuing for two decades.

Quinn acknowledged that in his veto messages.

“Inadequate consumer protections and high energy costs will not create jobs in Illinois,” Quinn wrote in one veto message. “Until I am satisfied that consumers are protected, burdens are shared and jobs are created, I will not affix my signature to this bill.”

The Citizens Utility Board applauded Quinn’s decision, reiterating its estimate that the plants would have led to higher heating costs to residents up to an average of $167 a year between 2015 and 2024.

“This is a great move by Gov. Quinn and a great day for Illinois consumers,” CUB Executive Director David Kolata said in a press release issued by the organization. “SB 3388 and SB 1927 could have sent the average family’s gas bill soaring by hundreds of dollars over the next decade. Working families are the backbone of a strong economy, and adding to their fixed monthly costs would only weigh down a state already struggling with the economy. CUB applauds the governor for protecting Illinois’ most important resource, its residents.”

Minutes after Quinn vetoed the two bills, State Sen. John O. Jones (R-Mt. Vernon) blasted the democratic governor, saying the veto means a loss of potential jobs for Southern Illinois.

“Pat Quinn painted himself as the ‘jobs governor,’” said Jones. “However, the ‘jobs governor’ is driving jobs out of Illinois. There will be 2,000 fewer construction jobs and 400 fewer permanent jobs thanks to Governor Quinn.”

The Environmental Law & Policy Center praised Quinn, saying the legislation allowing the Power Holdings of Illinois plant in Jefferson County as well as the Chicago plant by New York-based Leucadia National Corp. would have required utilities to buy the synthetic gas at above market prices.

“Illinois shouldn’t legislate sweetheart deals for specific energy companies,” center executive director Howard Learner said.

Environmentalists feared pollution caused by coal gasification. Jack Darin of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter, congratulated Quinn for nixing “bailouts for two risky, dirty coal plants.”

A Leucadia spokesman has said the plant would create much less pollution than existing Chicago coal-fired plants. Lawmakers sponsoring the legislation said a new plant would clean up existing contamination on the proposed construction site and create jobs.

State Rep. John Cavaletto (R-Salem) said Quinn’s excuse that the plants “will cost too much just does not add up.”

“We cannot speculate as to the cost, especially when the cost of oil has risen so dramatically in a short period of time,” said Cavaletto. “The governor talked about everyone being in and no one left out, but Southern Illinois has just been left out.”

The Power Holdings facility, as detailed in Illinois Environmental Protection Agency permit applications, would have used gasification technology to produce pipeline quality synthetic natural gas.

“In coal gasification, coal is first gasified to produce a synthetic gas,” information from IEPA stated. “The raw synthesis gas is then cleaned to produce a clean gas that is either used as fuel at the plant or further processed. At the proposed plant, the clean synthesis gas would be further processed by methanation to produce synthetic natural gas, which would be sold to natural gas suppliers. The design feedstock for the plant would be Herrin No. 6 coal from Illinois.”

Jones, a sponsor of SB 1927, said he was disappointed Quinn did not try to communicate with lawmakers before invoking the vetoes.

“I take issue with the governor’s veto of this bill because at no time did he reach out to the sponsors of this legislation to attempt to work out a compromise,” said Jones. “The governor has spent more time placating his liberal Chicago base instead of focusing on the two biggest issues: Job creation and the budget crisis.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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