The Discerning Texan

All that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.
-- Edmund Burke
Thursday, February 05, 2009

UPDATED: EVEN MORE GOODIES ADDED Stimulus Bill, Page 800: The Mother of All Earmarks

Two Billion Dollars for one earmark! And this one was brought to you by: Governor Rod Blagojevich! As Glenn Reynolds put it: "you can't make this stuff up..."

Buried in the 800 page stimulus bill is this seemingly innocuous allocation — well it's inocuous relative to a $1 trillion stimulus bill anyway — "$2,000,000,000 is available for one or more near zero emission powerplant(s).”

Interstingly enough, there's no such thing as a "near zero emission powerplant" — yet. The Bush administration had been planning to try and build the first of its kind in Mattoon, Illinois as part of the FutureGen project. The Department of Energy scuttled the project last year in part due to rising costs. The project was to be done as a part of a public-private alliance with the DOE picking up 74 percent of the projected $1.8 billion price tag, compared to initial estimates of $950 million.

Further, technological advancements had made the project obsolete. In a letter to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, headlined "New technology makes FutureGen a waste of tax money," then Secretary of Energy, Samuel W. Bodman, wrote:

The project's estimated cost has almost doubled and innovations in technology and changes in the marketplace have created other viable options for demonstrating carbon capture and storage on a commercial scale. That diminished the need for a demonstration project.

It became clear the Department of Energy could not, in good conscience, continue to support the program. The likelihood that it would fail, leaving the American people with hundreds of millions of dollars in sunk cost and none of the benefits, is not acceptable.

An MIT report concluded "the U.S. government begin thinking about such a portfolio of demonstration projects and not be singularly focused on any one project such as FutureGen." And the Washington Post editorial board also concluded the technology was "prohibitively expensive."

So in effect the inclusion of $2 billion for a near zero emissions powerplant amounts to a staggering earmark — one that's nine times the cost of the bridge to nowhere. It's also substantially larger than Congress' previous earmark record of $1.5 billion for the DC metro system last year.

After FutureGen was abandoned, disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich paid Cassidy and Associates, a major Washington, D.C. lobbying firm, $468,000 in public funds to lobby to restart the project. The Illinois delegation in Congress has also been pushing hard for the FutureGen earmark, despite the fact that the Obama administration has been vocal about their opposition to earmarks in the stimulus, and has even specfically said they are oppposed to including funding for FutureGen in the bill.

The Wall Street Journal estimates that the FutureGen would generate about 2,675 new jobs — and only 150 of those are permanent. Congress would be spending just shy of $750,000 per new job.

The language is still in the stimulus, though Senator Tom Coburn — the Van Helsing of earmark hunters — has introduced an amendment (#108) to strike the FutureGen funding from the bill.

Well, there is that...

UPDATE: Just what we need to "create jobs":

DiscerningTexan, 2/05/2009 11:39:00 PM |