Muckraker: Grist on PoliticsThe Flathead Beacon in Montana pinned down interviews with both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton ahead of the state’s Tuesday primary. The paper asked questions on domestic oil and gas drilling, the preservation of public lands, and coal. The whole thing is interesting, but the candidates’ responses on coal were the most notable:

Q: But what role should fossil fuels play, specifically in Montana, where we’ve got vast coal reserves? Do you think, in the short term or the long term, Montana should be moving more quickly to develop some of those coal reserves, to help us become a more energy-independent nation, or do we need to wait until better carbon-capture technology is developed?

Obama: I come from a coal state and so I am a big proponent of clean-coal technology and I want us to move rapidly in developing those sequestration technologies that’s required. We’re not going to immediately move off coal. A huge percentage of our electricity is generated by coal. What we need to do though is to put clean-coal technology on the fast track and that means money. It means investment in research. That’s something that we should have already been doing. We had a project called FutureGen, a billion-dollar project that was slated to go up, and the Bush administration canceled it after the siting decision was made and it wasn’t in Texas. I think that’s a mistake. We’re the Saudi Arabia of coal, and the sooner we can figure out how to burn it cleanly, not only are we going to benefit but we can license that technology to countries like China and India that are putting up new coal facilities every week.

Clinton: I think we are way behind in moving on carbon capture and sequestration. I support developing the country’s coal resources in a responsible way that lessens our dependence on foreign oil, and I believe Montana can play a major role in helping us achieve that. But it has to be done right, and as Gov. Schweitzer and I have both advocated, it has to be part of a larger strategy that includes wind and solar and biomass and geothermal and other renewables.

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As president I would support the construction of 10 carbon-sequestration demonstration projects to further this technology and I would like to see them placed strategically around the country in states like Montana, because there are different kinds of coal produced in different regions of the country and I think we should be looking to place these demonstration projects in areas where we’ve got to determine what our realistic options are for developing clean coal and clean-coal technology.