Cut Red Tape For New Plant

The decision to build a cutting-edge coal liquefaction plant right here in the Ohio Valley no doubt was a complex one. A variety of factors including accessibility to coal, transportation facilities, availability of a capable workforce and whether an acceptable site could be found were involved in the decision.

But another important consideration probably involved the reaction of state and local government. No one wants to sink $800 million into a plant that will not be welcomed by local and state officials.

When representatives of Consol Energy Inc. and Houston-based Synthesis Energy Systems Inc. announced Monday that they plan to build a new coal liquefaction plant in Benwood, they were surrounded by delighted government officials. In addition to those from local communities and counties, Gov. Joe Manchin and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., were present. The announcement was the fulfillment of a dream for both men, as well as for Ohio Valley residents and officials.

So government is “on board,” right? Not necessarily. While we have confidence that local and state governments will do all in their power to expedite the project, they have no control over federal agencies.

We in this area already are painfully aware of what can happen when a federal agency drags its feet. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was asked many months ago to approve permits needed for construction of a theme park at The Highlands in Ohio County. Local officials and the developer are still waiting for word on the permits.

While the theme park is important, the proposed coal liquefaction plant in Benwood is more so. It represents an important step for the entire nation, in working toward a sensible energy policy.

We urge federal officials to recognize that and do all in their power to cut through any red tape that may become part of the process of constructing the plant. It needs to be expedited, not delayed. It needs to be aided, not obstructed.

If the Benwood plant is successful, there is every reason to believe that more like it can be built – providing an essential new source of liquid fuel for Americans. The plant, then, is too important to be treated as just another project requiring the approval of federal agencies.