Three of the political leaders who will help determine the future of U.S. energy policy — and two guys who clearly want to influence it — spoke to reporters Wednesday in advance of a major energy summit in Washington, D.C., next week where each will speak.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar joined Center for American Progress President John Podesta and energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens to hype up the “National Clean Energy Project: Building the New Economy” summit, set to take place on Monday, Feb. 23. “Monday is going to be a good day for America,” said Reid, who called for this event as a follow-up to the conference he hosted in Nevada last August.

Several newsworthy issues came up on today’s call, but perhaps the most important had nothing to do with new energy sources. As Grist noted last week, there is at least $3.4 billion in the economic stimulus package that could be used for coal and other fossil fuel research. Chu said on today’s call that funds from the economic recovery bill will be used “to explore various technologies” for cleaning up coal, including coal to liquid technologies and carbon capture and sequestration.

“It’s a realization that coal is plentiful, it is abundant, and it plays a major role in our electricity, and we need to figure out ways to clean that up,” Chu said.

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Grist wasn’t able to get in a question about whether that funding would go to FutureGen, the multi-billion-dollar project in Illinois that many think it might end up funding.

Other newsworthy notes from the call:

  • Reid said the Senate plans to have a bill out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the next few weeks that will include a Renewable Electricity Standard and efficiency programs. But it won’t cover “carbon capture and climate issues — that will come later,” Reid said. ENR Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) expects to report a bill out of committee within two weeks after senators return from recess.
  • Reid embraced Pickens’ natural gas plans, saying that he’d like to see 400,000 18-wheelers running on natural gas. “This is the bridge I’ve talked about and Boone is talking about … Some of us don’t believe we should be locked into Chavez and the instability in the Middle East.”
  • Chu said the Energy Dept. plans to “streamline” the loan application process “to be more friendly to applicants” seeking funding for energy projects.
  • Chu said the majority of the funds for “smart grid” would go to the Western Area Power Administration and the Bonneville Power Administration.
  • Reid said that among the expected guests for next week’s summit are former president Bill Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), acting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) chair Jon Wellinghoff, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), and former New York Gov. George Pataki (R). Al Gore is also invited but no word yet on whether he can make it.

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