Washington Governors pushing alternative energy development are not shying from coal, a major culprit in global warming but also a homegrown energy source and an economic lifeline for many states.
Leaders of coal-rich states say clean-coal technology is a must. Governors from states without coal want more evidence the technology works.
"There's no doubt there's a tension and there's no doubt there is very rapidly growing public opposition to coal," said Gov. Jim Doyle, D-Wis. His state relies heavily on coal for power although Wisconsin is not a coal producer.
Energy tops the agenda at the governors' annual winter meeting. The group's new clean energy initiative seeks to promote renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
"Next-generation coal is going to need to continue to be part of our energy future for this country," said GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, chairman of the National Governors Association.
"It is abundant, it is available, it is Americanized in the sense that we control the supply," he said Saturday. "We would be incomplete and doing a disservice to the debate and the ultimate policy direction that we're going to take if we don't envision coal being part of that."
Next-generation coal typically refers to capturing and somehow sequestering or storing the carbon that coal produces. It also envisions reducing or eliminating emissions as coal is burned.
Pawlenty has embraced renewable fuels such as corn-based ethanol and conservation, but he also promotes clean-coal technology.
Such technology is a rallying cry for many coal-producing states. They say it is possible to continue relying on the fossil fuel while minimizing its impact on the environment.
A president of one of the country's biggest power companies urged governors not to dismiss coal, calling it our most abundant energy resource.
"We cannot ignore coal, we cannot demonize coal," said Thomas Farrell, chairman of Richmond, Va.-based Dominion Resources Inc.
The key, says Gov. Brian Schweitzer, D-Mont., is a national energy policy with many options and sources.
Coal "has a CO2 problem, wind has a reliability problem, solar has a price problem, nukes have a price and radiation problem," Schweitzer said. "So all of those technologies have opportunities, but they all have problems - coal's no different."