The battle over whether coal or liquefied natural gas will be used to meet growing electricity demand in the United States was the underlying theme at a March 10 U.S. Senate hearing on the future of coal. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing focused on developing cost-effective technologies aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants. Although the use of coal to make electricity has been political anathema in California, state utilities, such as Sempra, and some policy makers are looking at using the fuel to create power out-of-state for import here. The most oft-heard voices in the hearing were pro-coal ones, who insisted that use of this fossil fuel be expanded to meet future electricity demand because it is native and cheap?unlike foreign gas, with its price and political volatility. Committee chair Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico) said that LNG significantly affects the country?s trade balance, accounting for an estimated $18 billion in debt. The source of most coal is the West, with the Powder River Basin in Wyoming expected to be able to supply fuel for decades. It is the ?Saudi Arabia of coal,? said David Owens, executive vice-president of the Edison Electric Institute. Even if renewable power development expands, he said, coal will be needed to meet the underlying baseload growth. Like new California Public Utilities Commission member Dian Grueneich, Owens and the other speakers agreed that so-called clean coal is the future. There was no agreement, however, on how to define ?clean? or how much should be spent to develop and support technologies that would reduce greenhouse gases and other harmful emissions from coal-fired plants. Many coal interests are seeking tax incentives, accelerated depreciation on plant parts, and billions of dollars in government subsidies to promote less polluting coal-fueled plants. In related news, Public Service of New Mexico announced that it and fellow power plant owners would invest $200 million to install new pollution technology to reduce mercury emissions at the jointly owned 1,798 MW plant near Farmington, New Mexico. The installation is part of a settlement the company reached with the New Mexico Environment Department and environmental groups.