Coal to Liquid: A Montana Tribe Invests in the Potential

By August 11, 2008Energy, Global Warming

Last week we took a look at the Presidential candidates’ Senate records on energy, noting that Sen. Obama had sponsored legislation to increase research into coal-to-liquids technology (Fischer-Tropf) but then moved away from that aspect of coal development as his campaign got going. Coal-to-liquids transformation is high on the environmentalists’ list of things to hate (right below Alberta oil sands), so primary politics played a role in the evolving positions.

So it’s interesting to see one of Obama’s prime constituencies fully embracing coal-to-liquids. We’re talking American Indians, specifically the Crow Tribe in Montana.  (The Crow Agency’s website prominently features the May political rally held with Senator Obama.) And now the tribe has signed an agreement for a major new energy project.

CROW AGENCY, Mont. — A $7 billion coal-to-liquids plant proposed for southeastern Montana’s Crow reservation promises an economic boon for the region, but must first overcome economic and political hurdles that have kept any such plant from being built in the United States.

The Many Stars plant — a partnership between the tribe and Australian-American Energy Co. — would convert the reservation’s sizable coal reserves into 50,000 barrels a day of diesel and other fuels.

State officials said Friday it represents the most valuable economic development project in Montana history.

“We’re talking about one of the most technologically advanced, sophisticated energy projects on the planet,” Gov. Brian Schweitzer said at a news conference detailing the project.

The tribe’s interest is economic, the goal being jobs and income and self-improvement. From an earlier AP story:

The American Indian tribe’s chairman, Carl Venne, said the coal-to-liquids project offered an unprecedented chance at improving the lives of the tribe’s 12,000 members. The agreement calls for the Crow to receive up to 50 percent of profits from the plant after investors in the project recoup their costs.

“It means we will become self sufficient as a tribe,” Venne said. “I won’t need no more federal dollars. I won’t need no more state dollars.”

Environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council would prefer your continued dependency, Chairman Venne.

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