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Coal should remain vital to US energy future, Hatch declares

Orrin Hatch talks about issues during a visit to the Sun Advocate.

Sun Advocate Reporters

As far as Utah's senior senator is concerned, energy development in the United States should apply to all forms of energy. Orrin Hatch said that means fossil fuels and nuclear as well as the new technologies of wind, solar and geothermal.

In a wide-ranging conversation at the Sun Advocate office Tuesday evening as part of a state-wide tour, Hatch stated that coal in particular is such a vital part of the US and Utah energy mix that it cannot be replaced any time soon by alternative forms of energy. "Where would we be without the power plants at Castle Dale or Huntington or Intermountain Power?" he asked.

Hatch is sponsoring legislation that would offer tax credits for development of viable forms of clean coal technologies that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of pollution from flue gases. That would include technology to turn coal into gas or liquid fuel, he added. The legislation won't happen this year because there are so many other issues facing Congress in the next few months, but he said he'll keep the proposal on track and will be seeking cosponsors.

The senator said the current administration's Interior Department is "making it tough" to exploit Utah's proven coal resources. The Kaiparowits Plateau in particular - which he called "the Saudi Arabia of coal" - is off-limits for mining, for instance.

"We can't do away with it (coal)," Hatch said, noting that 95 percent of the energy used in the U.S. comes from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power. The state of Utah benefits tremendously from the coal mining industry, he said.

Meanwhile, he said he supports continued research and development of alternative energy sources, including conservation. He said he has been impressed by one company that has discovered how to harness low-temperature geothermal resources for electric generation and another project that could develop a system that might transform something like a Chevrolet Silverado pickup into a 100 mile-per-gallon vehicle.

In response to questions about federal fiscal policy, Hatch said the nation's deficit came about under both Republican and Democratic congressional majorities because "we have never had a majority of fiscal conservatives" no matter which party was in power. There were enough "liberal Republicans" aboard to run up deficits year after year, he said.

Hatch, who has served 33 years in the Senate, now has the seniority to be a contender for the chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee if the GOP wins a majority of seats. If that happens, he promised a long, hard look at revising federal entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security, which he says are huge, unfunded liabilities. He said that future generations will not be getting as much as those of the present and past.

Wars are also trillion-dollar expenses, and in response to questions about the cost and benefit of two major wars, Hatch said it is unfortunate but necessary for the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said Al Qaeda is siding with the Taliban to retake Afghanistan, then move on to take Pakistan and threaten India. "Pakistan is a nuclear power," he warned, and nuclear weapons in the hands of extremists could provoke "World War Four." World War Three was the Cold War, he explained.

"So we have to ask how many more trillions it would cost if we were not there," he said. "Things could be a lot worse if we didn't do anything at all."

On immigration, the senator said he sees no reason to rewrite the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which grants automatic citizenship to anyone born here. There are laws on the books, if only they would be enforced, he declared. He criticized the Obama Administration for not doing more to stem the tide of illegal immigration, stating that the federal government's mishandling of the situation has led Arizona to take its own measures.

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