A surprisingly controversial bill to move Western coal to Southern and Eastern markets by means of slurry pipelines was killed by the House yesterday, 246 to 161, a victim of railroad clout and environmental fears.
When a bill has cleared two committees, as this one had, opponents usually have to settle for hitting it with a few weakening amendments. But in this case the opposition would up and killed it with one punch. That should be the end of the issue for this congress.
The Carter administration's energy plan envisions increased use of abundant coal in the future as an alternative to the oil and natural gas that the president and his advisers want to conserve. But a lot of U.S. coal is in the Far West, and one problem is how to move it to the plants where it would be burned in other regions of the country. Therefore, the administration backed the pipeline bill, though it was not a central part of President Carter's legislation.
Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.), floor manager of the bill, said the action is typical of what the nation faces as it tries to evolve an energy policy and adjust to it. "Energy decisions will be tough, complex and tread on powerful interests," he said. "The result here was that the public interest got trampled."
A coal slurry pipeline would provide an alternative to railroad cars for moving coal from mine to market. Pulverized coal mixed with equal amounts of water could be pumped hundreds of miles, chiefly from Wyoming to power plants in the Texas-Arkansas area. The bill would, when the secretary of the interior decided it to be in the publci interest, give pipeline companies thep ower of eminent domain to obtain rights of way to building a pipeline.
Udall told the House that the sole purpose of the bill was to make available a new technology for moving coal. In most cases, he said, it would still be cheaper to move it by rail, but about 5 percent of the proposed doubled production by 1985 could be moved by pipeline.
He said the railroads would still get the bulk of new business from increased reliance on coal, that they need competition, and that the power to obtain rights of way has been given to gas and oil pipeline companies.
By opponents contended that it made no sense for the government to spend billions of dollars trying to make the railroads healthy and then turn around and create a competitor to take away their business.
Rep. Fred Rooney (D-Pa.), chairman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over railroads, said slurry pipelines 
In addition, some environmental groups opposed the bill for fear that the water mixed with the coal would become polluted and pose a disposal problem.
Another fear was the pipelines would use up the water of the arid Western states, even sucking up underground water from neighboring states not involved in the coal business.
Udall said he would accept the most absolute states' rights veto over use of their water that could be written. But a debate that lasted most of yesterday morning showed there was no agreement that this could be done.
After the bill was killed, Udall blamed the loss on the fact that only a few sections of the country stood to benefit in the foreseeable future, that railroad management and unions worked hard and effictively against the bill and that a few "knee-jerk" environmentalists saw a problem that wasn't there, and because of the "pervasive influence of the emotional issue of Western water."