August 21, 2008

State Spends More to Lobby for Stalled Power Plant

By Mike Riopell;[email protected]

SPRINGFIELD - The Blagojevich administration plans to add to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it's already spent on a high- profile Washington, D.C., lobbying firm that has worked on securing the stalled FutureGen power plant project for Illinois.

State records show a new $165,000 contract for lobbying giant Cassidy and Associates will begin at the end of the month and run through June of 2009.

The new money is in addition to the $303,000 the state already paid to the firm to help convince FutureGen officials to site the $1.8 billion plant in east central Illinois' Mattoon.

But after Mattoon was announced as the planned site for the experimental coal power plant in December of last year, the federal Department of Energy announced a change in plans, which has put the Illinois facility on hold.

Still, supporters of Illinois' bid for the project are holding out hope that a new president could spur eventual construction in Mattoon.

Records show the state wants to have the lobbying contract in place so it doesn't miss out on the chance.

"Should that happen, the FutureGen Project would not be built in Illinois and nearly $1.8 billion in federal and private investment associated with FutureGen would not be made in Illinois," the records said.

The new contract for Cassidy and Associates brings the total price tag for the firm's FutureGen lobbying close to half a million dollars at $468,000.

But Illinois' delegation in Congress has already been working on securing the project for Illinois, and the hundreds of promised jobs that could come with it.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, for example, earlier threatened to block President Bush's appointees to the Department of Energy until the FutureGen matter is cleared up.

A Durbin spokeswoman didn't return a request for comment about whether the lobbying costs were warranted given that lawmakers are already working on the project.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said federal lawmakers would continue their efforts, but the state officials should do what they think is needed.

"Since they need to be kept in the loop of all issues revolving around FutureGen and with much of the effort in Washington, DC, if they determine this is the best route, that is their decision," said Shimkus spokesman Steve Tomaszewski.

Since FutureGen was first proposed, the project's estimated cost doubled, to $1.8 billion. The experimental plant would use coal to create electricity, then pump pollutants under ground.

Because it wouldn't pollute much, the technology is touted as a potential help for the state's struggling coal industry, which has been hampered by environmental regulations.

Local officials near Mattoon were looking forward to the job growth the project would create. For that reason, most are still holding out hope on the project.

State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said he thought the lobbying expenses were warranted.

"Now we've just got to wait out the current administration," Rose said.

(c) 2008 Pantagraph. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.