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Coal slurry’s back Members of Congress are choosing up sides again between the well financed lobbies for the coal-hauling railroads and the coal-slurry pipelines \(Obs., the legendary clout of the railroad lobby may not be enough to keep the pipeliners from getting what they want from Washington. Despite worries about whether they can requisition the water they’ll need, pipeline companies are going ahead with plans for at least four pipelines to carry the mixture of water and pulverized coal called slurry from mines in Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming. Federal legislation to let the pipeliners dig across public and private land has been easily blocked in the last three sessions of Congress, but the slurry lobby says long-distance slurry pipelines are looking more feasible all the time. Favorable court decisions and laws enacted in Texas and seven other states have given pipeline builders the right of eminent domain, and the economic argument for coal slurry has benefited from the staggering increases in rates the railroads charge to haul coal. Because of those high railroad rates, one Texas electric utility, San Antonio’s City Public Service, recently jumped on the coal-slurry bandwagon. CPS has been dealing with the Burlington Northern Railroad, the only line carrying low-sulfur coal from Wyoming, since 1973, when the railroad said it would charge $7.90 to haul a ton of coal. Since then the shipping rate has risen to $19.04 per ton, more than twice the value of the coal itself$7.07 a tonand San Antonians from the mayor on down are saying they’ve been ripped off. CPS is “most unhappy with this rate,” says its spokesman, Jerry Spengler, and the San Antonio utility has been shopping for alternative coal supplies from Mexico and even Australia. But, Spengler emphasizes, “we are keeping our opportunities open to participate” in a coal-slurry pipeline deal. “We have expressed in every possible way,” says Spengler, “our interest” in the passage of HR 4370, the bill now before Congress which gives the green light to pipeliners to dig through federal and private lands. This bill, sponsored by Texans Bob Eckhardt of Houston, Chick Kazen of Laredo, and majority leader Jim Wright of Fort Worth, and by Arizona’s Morris Udall among others, is expected to come out of Udall’s House interior committee early in November. Basically, it would give the secretary of the interior au thority to grant pipelines rights-of-way across federal lands such as national forests and defense installations, but most importantly it would grant pipeliners the quasi-governmental power of eminent domain to get rights-of-way from private landholders if negotiations break down. It just so happens that the landholders most likely to stand their ground are the railroads, which have monopolized the business of highvolume coal shipment and whose lobbyists say they’d end up as economic basket cases if they’re deprived of coalhauling revenue. Pipeline backers concede that the railroads already have enough transport capacity to meet the needs of coal producers and consumers alike. Pipeline industry sources, according to an April study by Congress’s General Accounting Office, hold that “the pipelines’ major contribution to the nation’s future transportation requirements is not the expansion of existing transportation capability, but rather the added competition that pipelines will offer the railroad industry.” The implication is that pipelines will offer consumers a break in hauling rates and thus will encourage railroads to cut theirs. It’s not just the railroads that stand in the way of the pipelines, however. The governors and legislatures of the dry West, where the pipeliners want to start building in the early 1980s, aren’t too keen on releasing the thousands of acrefeet of water the pipelines would use up. Colorado and Montana have laws forbidding the export of water to other states, and Wyoming requires the special permission of its legislature for such a scheme. So far, only one pipeline company, Energy Transportation Systems, a joint venture of Houston-based United Energy, Inc., and three other corporations, has secured rights from Wyoming to the 20,000 acre-feet of water it will need every year to keep the slurry flowing from Gillette, Wyoming, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. To placate the states .that haven’t been as cooperative, the House bill’s sponsors last year added assurances that the federal law would not pre-empt state limitations on water use. ,This year, Congressman Bob Eckhardt, whose hometown of Houston would be the terminus of two planned slurry pipelines, is willing to put in language to guarantee that the issue of interfering in interstate commerce cannot be raised against state water laws. Sponsors are considering additional concessions, but, says Eckhardt aide Cliff Whitney, “there’s still some controversy over how far we should go.” Though the bill is likely to win approval in both the interior and public works committees of the House, says Whitney, “the key test is going to be on the floor,” where the railroad lobby “slaughtered us” last year. But even if the slurry interests win decisively this time, it seems the Western states would still have the right to withhold their water. And even if the Westerners agree to part with their water, it’s by no means certain that pipeline-railroad competition will bring rate relief to consumers. Bob Sindermann Jr. 13 THE TEXAS OBSERVER