Coleman might trade drilling for power-plant funds

Senator said his stance on ANWR hasn't changed

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Norm Coleman said he could reverse his position and vote to allow drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if a new energy bill includes money for a huge, high-tech power plant in Hoyt Lakes, Minn.

The Minnesota Republican said he was trying to cut a deal for up to $800 million in federal loan guarantees to Minnesota for the power plant, bringing hundreds of new jobs to the Iron Range.

"It would be very difficult for me to vote against an energy bill with this in it," Coleman told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. "On the other hand, and I want to make it clear: My position on ANWR hasn't changed, and any discussion of ANWR is very, very hypothetical. …; What's not hypothetical is the opportunity we have for Minnesota."


He said he would prefer that the energy bill not include the ANWR language.

In March, Coleman was one of only eight Republicans who voted against drilling in ANWR, but he made it clear at the time he could vote for it in exchange for more money for biodiesel and other renewable fuels.

Coleman said that Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chief Senate negotiator on the energy bill, inserted a provision that would boost the Minnesota project, which calls for using a clean-burning technology for making electricity from coal in a process called coal gasification.

The loan guarantees for the Minnesota power plant were added more than a week ago to a section of the bill on "clean power initiatives" agreed to by Domenici and Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., the chief House negotiator.

The project has been proposed by Excelsior Energy, a partnership of three former Northern States Power Co. executives.

Coleman said he still is worried that the deal could fall through as a House-Senate conference committee finalizes its work.

"This is a big deal," he said. "This is a unique opportunity. I am trying my hardest to make it happen. …; You have the prospect of creating a thousand construction jobs, 600 permanent jobs on the Iron Range. This is a huge, huge opportunity for northern Minnesota."

In addition to the $800 million in loan guarantees, Coleman said he was pushing for the bill to include tax credits for biodiesel fuel made from Minnesota soybeans and a requirement that gasoline refiners use more corn-based ethanol.

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