1978 Scorecard Vote
Department of Energy Authorization H.R. 12163. The vote is on the Flowers amendment to give Gulf Oil Corporation $75 million to demonstrate the commercial feasibility of solvent refined coal II as an energy source. The money would pay for the initial construction costs of a 6,000 ton a day commercial plant. Solvent refined coal (SRC II) is a chemical process that turns coal into a liquid state suitable for use as a broiler fuel. The end result is a cleaner burning fuel than most coal, with a much lower sulfur content, that industries would like to use to meet clean air standards in urban areas. But there are other serious environmental problems. The SRC II process produces aromatic hydrocarbons and other chemicals that are suspected potent carcinogens. The refining process also requires a lot of energy, so that the net energy produced per ton of coal would be far less than it would be if the coal were burned directly. Ultimately this means more carbon dioxide is put into the global atmosphere for each unit of energy produced. The SRC II process also requires a tremendous amount of water. For all these reasons, environmentalists think it is usually better to burn coal directly and use scrubbers to get rid of the sulfur.
An earlier Commerce Committee version of this amendment had limited funding to engineering and design and had contained some environmental safeguards, while the Flowers amendment had none. Most Members of Congress were probably not aware of all the potential hazards of SRC II, but they were warned by Ottinger and others on the house floor that the technology was not yet economical, that the amendment was a subsidy for Gulf Oil with no strings attached, and that it would have significant environmental impacts. Stockman remarked that "it would not do our economy one bit of good to substitute a $20 synthetic fuel for $13 oil you can buy on the world market." Adopted 165-132. July 14, 1978. NO is the correct vote.