The future of US coal power: cleaner and more prevalent

Regarding your Feb. 26 article "America's New Coal Rush": If we do not use coal for our next increment of much-needed electric generation, we run the risk of going without electricity, or of exponentially elevating the price of natural gas and raising demand for a severely limited supply.

A new generation of highly efficient pollution-control technology was developed in the US Department of Energy's Clean Coal Technology Program of the 1990s. As a rule, the coal-based power plants being proposed for construction are modern plants - ultraefficient and ultraclean. The new supercritical applications incorporate the latest pollution-control technologies and are rated almost as clean as natural gas plants.

The President's Clean Coal Power Initiative has among its goals the generation of electric power from coal with zero emissions; plus hydrogen production to support the evolution of a pollution-free economy. This effort is aimed at constructing a prototype power plant called FutureGen. The initiative is well under way and will invest $2 billion in perfecting the necessary technologies.

Coal represents more than 90 percent of America's fossil-fuel reserves and, thus, a critical element in our nation's energy security. We must find ways of using it cleanly so that we can balance and diversify our energy portfolio in the interest of elevating environmental, economic, and energy security.
Spencer Abraham
Secretary, US Department of Energy

College debt decreasing, but still jolting

Regarding your March 9 article "In debt from Day One": Johns Hopkins alumnus Justin Anderson reports having graduated with an intimidating $101,000 in debt. As your story indicates, Mr. Anderson's family's income was too large to qualify him for need-based financial aid. Financing his college education through student and parent loans rather than through family resources was their choice.

The number of students who graduate with such massive debt is very small, and getting smaller. At Johns Hopkins, the average student loan debt load for graduating seniors who borrow has fallen from $16,900 in 1994 to $13,600 last year.

It's important to note that students who do take out loans to finance their education need not feel, as Anderson did, that they must give up their career aspirations to pursue only high-paying jobs. The standard term of most student loans is 10 years and can be extended up to 25 years.
Ellen Frishberg
Director, Student Financial Services, The Johns Hopkins University

As a parent with two high school-age children who are college bound, your article on tuition debt was a jolt. I have a nagging question though: Why doesn't anyone seem to be challenging the spiraling cost of higher education? After all, what other business could spike their charges as much as universities have and remain in business?
Kevin McGrane
St. Louis

Keep voting age 18

Regarding your March 12 article "Should 14-year-olds vote? OK, how about a quarter of a vote?": Lowering the voting age is a bad idea.

As a high school student and president of the Trumbull High School Young Republicans Club, I can personally attest that most teens below 18 do not have the will to vote. Most don't know the issues and don't even know the candidates. The reason that Sen. John Vasconcellos (D) wants the voting age lowered is political. It's well known that most young people vote Democratic.
Chad Ciocci
Trumbull, Conn.

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