Ali Velshi on CNN, Wednesday morning: "What if you could take a lump of coal and turn that in to your gasoline?"

What if, indeed? A brief (very brief) stroll through the archives…

The following headlines, from a 5-minute search through The New York Times:

"Coal is to give us gasoline and a new fuel" November 28, 1926

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"Oil fom Coal — to meet the nation’s need" ("Experimental plants-point the way toward freedom from our dependence on imports.") September 12, 1948

"NO NEED SEEN NOW FOR SYNTHETIC OIL; Production From Coal Feasible but Cost Is Not Warranted at Present" September 2, 1951

"Oil From Shale, Coal May Be Used In the Near Future, Report Says" July 31, 1956

"Gas from coal is held feasible" November 24, 1957

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"Tax privilege asked for synthetic fuels" April 16, 1958

"G.A.O. Charges Poor Management Killed U.S. Bid to Turn Coal to Oil; First Attempt a ‘Failure’" August 20, 1977

"Pilot coal-to-oil plant gets reactor vessel" October 5, 1977

"Congress Acts to Spur Synthetic Fuels" June 26, 1979

"Synthetic Fuels Bill Advances" March 12, 1980

"Reagan’s budget proposals include deep cut in synthetic fuel projects" February 5, 1981

"USSR, its oil declining, looks to liquid fuel from coal" March 15, 1981

We all remember how the Soviet Union won the Cold War after they cracked the secret to cheap fuel from coal, right?

But don’t worry, I’m sure after more than 80 years of trying, we’ll crack it any second.

The point to all this is not to say that coal-to-liquids technology won’t work; the point is that the U.S. has tried, time and time again, and can’t seem to commit. There’s always cheaper ways of dealing with oil shortages than trying to squeeze blood from a stone. There’s no reason to believe that’s changed.

Plus, there’s that whole "ruining the planet" thing.

Oh, and while I was rooting around in the archives like a pig looking for truffles, I also found two other little nuggets:

"Scientists Fear Heavy Use of Coal May Bring Adverse Shift in Climate" July 25, 1977

"Synthetic fuels called a peril to the atmosphere" August 1, 1981

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