Gov. Quinn vetoes coal-to-gas bills

By Julie Wernau
Posted March 14 at 5:05 p.m.

In vetoing two bills Monday that would have paved the way for two coal-to-gas plants to be built in the state, Gov. Pat Quinn signaled his support for cleaner uses of Illinois coal but said he would not support the technology at the expense of consumers.

The bills would have forced state utilities to buy synthetic natural gas, which was expected to be more expensive than natural gas for the next two decades, from a $3 billion plant on Chicago’s Southeast Side proposed by New York-based Leucadia National Corp. and a $1 billion southern Illinois plant proposed by Power Holdings of Illinois.

The extra costs would have been passed on to people via their home heating bills, costing consumers as much as $191 more a year to heat their homes beginning around 2015 and continuing for roughly two decades.

“Our investments in clean coal must not come at the expense of consumers,” said Quinn, who sided with environmental and community groups and the Citizens Utility Board, a consumer advocacy group he co-founded.

David Kolata, CUB executive director, said, “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.”

Leucadia said in a statement that the company is disappointed but would reassess the situation to determine its next steps. Leucadia said the project would have created thousands of jobs and was supported by area businesses, as well as labor, advocacy and community organizations.

Because the bills were passed in the last legislative session, the General Assembly can’t override the vetoes. Supporters of the projects would be forced to try again under new legislation.

State Rep. Marlow Colvin, D-Chicago, who sponsored the Leucadia bill, said he is hopeful a revised version would meet with the governor’s approval at a later date.

“These plants would have been the cleanest fuel plants in the entire United States of America. I remain undaunted,” Colvin said. “I’m encouraged by the governor’s veto message. We’ll retool and address those concerns the governor raised in his veto message.”

Power Holdings could not be reached.

Over the last two months, community and environmental groups opposing Leucadia’s proposed plant had flooded Quinn’s office with postcards, phone calls and handwritten letters asking him to veto the bill, culminating with a rally last week at the Thompson Center where protesters wore death masks and coal devil costumes.

The protesters expressed concerns the plant would add more pollution to their neighborhood, whose air contains the state’s highest levels of toxic heavy metals, chromium and cadmium, as well as sulfates, which can trigger asthma attacks and increase the risk of heart disease.

Leucadia said its plant would have created about one-hundredth of the pollution of traditional coal-fired power plants. That’s because gasification plants don’t burn coal, which send toxic byproducts into the air through a smokestack. Instead, the coal is gasified through a chemical process and byproducts are collected, to be sold and reused.

Tom Shepherd, Southeast Environmental Task Force secretary and board member, said the fact that neighborhood residents opposed the plant showed that “people here thought that their health and well-being were so much more important” than the promise of jobs.

Becki Clayborn, a regional representative for the Sierra Club’s Midwest Clean Energy Campaign, said she was amazed at “how that group of people just exploded.”

The bills would have forced utilities to purchase the gas produced from coal and refinery waste from the proposed Chicago plant for 30 years and for 10 years from the proposed coal-to-gas plant in Jefferson County.

“Illinois shouldn’t legislate sweetheart deals for specific energy companies,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which analyzed the costs the bills would have had on consumers. “These were overpriced projects relying on enormous ratepayer subsidies.”

Over the last three years, Leucadia has spent $86 million to investigate, evaluate and obtain permits for energy projects, including gasification plants in Rockport, Ind., Moss Point, Miss., and Lake Charles, La., according to company regulatory filings.

In each case, the company is asking for significant outside equity investment and long-term commitments from state governments that would require local utilities to purchase the gas those plants would produce.

In Louisiana, Leucadia has been awarded $128 million in investment tax credits and $260 million in federal funds for carbon capture and sequestration, and the Lake Charles Harbor and Terminal District has awarded $1.6 billion in tax-exempt bonds to support the approximately $2.3 billion plant, proposed by Leucadia’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Lake Charles Cogeneration LLC.

In July 2009, the company’s gasification projects in and Indiana received the go-ahead from the U.S. Department of Energy to begin a due-diligence process that would lead to loan guarantees worth $3.6 billion.

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  1. elginbrian March 14 at 4:36 pm

    Wow. Sanity in small doses. I guess since the extra money wasn’t going to the government, it was OK to actually do what the people wanted. If these developers think their projects are so good, they need to make them competitive at current energy prices. Like all other energy projects, they need to be competitive in the market, not subsidized by the market.

  2. RegularGuy March 14 at 4:53 pm

    There was no statesmanship and no altruism in Quinn’s veto. He decided he couldn’t squeeze another big campaign contribution out of a union by approving the bill, so he vetoed it.

    WE are NOT Quinn’s Number One priority.

  3. bfree March 14 at 5:06 pm

    Not a very objective piece of writing by the reporter. Sounds like she is just spitting out the far left talking points.

  4. Bob March 14 at 5:09 pm

    Why and How did the bill even pass before being vetoed??
    Evidently someone’s war chest was enlightned! Appears to be a plus for the Gov.

  5. John March 14 at 5:23 pm

    This article is written based on today prices and natural gas is currently relatively low compared to historical standards. If prices were to return to levels a few years ago it would produce savings.

    Also both of these projects would have created jobs, IL biggest problem!

  6. Jeff March 14 at 5:25 pm

    I hope that barely-elected SOB is going to pay my electric bill now. Quinn is human garbage.

  7. Chris March 14 at 5:48 pm

    Quinn is an enemy of the people, Quinn is only in it for Quinn and the special interest groups. John says it correctly, it would have created jobs and saved money in the future.

  8. Me March 14 at 5:52 pm

    Natural gas prices will be low for decades. For once Quinn did the right thing, even if for the wrong reason.

  9. JBob March 14 at 5:55 pm

    Well, based on this article, it says it will only create two hundred jobs – far less than a Wal-Mart would. Also, it would only end up being cheaper if gas prices rise to a level we saw a few years ago. If the Obama administration would get off their duffs and allow domestic energy producers to harvest some of the natural gas resources we do have, it would keep the natural gas price low and provide far more than 200 jobs.

  10. WJC March 14 at 5:57 pm

    “During these difficult times, it is tempting to pursue short-term solutions,” Quinn said in a letter to the Illinois General Assembly. “But as Governor, it is my job to ensure that the decisions we make today benefit Illinoisians for years to come. Higher energy prices for consumers and additional burdens for businesses will not help our state achieve long-term economic success.”

    Suddenly this pathetic excuse of a governor is concerned about the well being of the taxpayers, I don’t think so.

  11. mouseanon March 14 at 5:58 pm

    I love all of the right-wing dopes who post here without even reading the article. Hey guys, you can have your gasification plant; just make sure that you, not the rest of us, pay for it. Why should the households of Illinois have their energy costs raised almost $200 a year for this? We certainly wouldn’t benefit from it.

  12. Chris March 14 at 6:24 pm


    Why should we be subsidizing you and your left-wing friends through countless social entitlement programs?

  13. mf March 14 at 6:53 pm

    What do the people really want – cleaner air or a gas bill that will be <$200 lower for the next 20 years? This bill would require utilities to purchase syn-gas to produce electricity, which is more expensive than the current method of coal combustion. So, is everyone back on board with coal fired power plants in Chicago? You can't whine about industrial pollution then not be willing to pay to offset the higher costs of polluting less. Don't want to see your gas bill increase? Set your thermostat two degrees warmer in the summer, replace your inefficient light bulbs, and find other ways to reduce your energy consumption – everybody wins.

  14. Sean March 14 at 6:53 pm

    Wow, a savings of $200 a year!! Who cares, I spend that much on a weekend.

    More left wing tripe.

  15. JohnS March 14 at 7:41 pm

    Wow, for the first time ever, I might just agree with the governor!

  16. ralph March 14 at 7:46 pm

    Quinn the job-killer strikes again.

  17. curmudgeon March 14 at 8:08 pm

    if only we could harness all the hot air from the kneeJERK right wing who would rather p1ss and moan about EVERYTHING. This is what is so funny about the whole Republican party. The people who can least understand economic issues are the ones who most support the GOP.

  18. Devils Advocate March 14 at 8:28 pm

    Don’t people realize how much extra they are paying for the “clean” wind power blighting the landscape of Illinois? Like ethanol, wind power, and electric vehicles, coal gasification is a economically unsound. Without massive infusions of your money in the form of added charges and taxes, these technologies could not exist.

  19. RegularGuy March 14 at 9:20 pm

    MF – If we all succeed at reducing our electricity consumption, the inevitable outcome will be the electric utilities petitioning the ICC for a rate increase – due to a decline in demand.

    We are going to pay more, one way or the other.

  20. Bitter Voter March 14 at 9:32 pm

    Funny how quinn is Soooo concerned with us spending an extra $200/year when he had NO PROBLEM jacking taxes up by 67% to keep the unions happy. How much did that tax increase cost most people??? I bet it was on average $1200/year for a family that makes $60000, thanks flat tax!

  21. Jmogs March 14 at 9:58 pm

    Wow…take a breath before freaking out… Don’t like Quinn? OK, but take a moment to understand what you are commenting on. The General Assembly was picking winners. Not letting the market rule. Pushing special interests. Cripes, take a chill pill on the anti-Quinn bile, this seems like the right decision for folks on the right. The fact that it is a cleaner option shouldn’t force the trolls to hate this…

  22. William March 14 at 10:14 pm

    Ok, I’ll start off by saying that most of you are slow. Have any of you been to or googled the areas were they wanted to put the two plants. If you did, you would see that one is less then 3 blocks away from an elementry school, high school and a residential area. Why don’t we put the plant in downtown Chicago. That would be stupid. Right? The other plant that they talked about was miles away from people. The jobs that they talked about were engineering degreed jobs that were not guaranteed to people from Chicago. They were said to be six figure salaried jobs that were not guaranteed to Chicagoans. The construction jobs were short term and also not guaranteed to to be union. If the to to Alderman, would allow people that want to do business in the community to do so that land would not be vacant. Things will be changing soon.

  23. Anielle March 14 at 10:51 pm


  24. reality March 15 at 12:22 a.m.

    many of you need to read the full article, not just the headline. Quinn actually did the right thing (this time). It would have raised electric prices, caused ploution in residential areas, and certainly put money into the pockets of some cronies of the politicians who proposed this dumb idea.

  25. libertyville March 15 at 6:59 a.m.

    Quinn will go down in history as the governor who protected us from the 21st century. With his thinking and agenda stuck in the 19th century, Quinn will keep Illinois safely preserved as an anachronism.

  26. Anielle March 15 at 2:41 pm

    Thank you for keeping us Safe in Illinois Gov Quinn! Thank you for protecting the residents of Illinois from companies that want to start a business by polluting the air, fill their pockets at the expense of Illinois residents and then pretend they are doing us a favor. Gov Quinn thank you for doing the job we hired you to do!