updated 5/3/2005 3:49:50 PM ET 2005-05-03T19:49:50

U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman called for more international efforts to develop coal as an alternative energy source as ministers met Tuesday to address concerns over the future of the world’s energy supplies.

Bodman, attending his first major international meeting since he took office in February, also sought to deflect criticism that the United States is not doing enough to improve its own energy efficiency and reduce both consumption and greenhouse emissions.

Speaking on the sidelines of an International Energy Agency meeting of energy ministers in Paris, Bodman said the energy watchdog should be “more proactive” in promoting the development of so-called clean coal. The technology, which is still at the research stage, promises to reduce greenhouse emissions from coal-fired plants.

The 26-member IEA could “put some milestones on this as to just when we expect investments to be made, when we expect certain tests to be done,” Bodman said.

Industrialized countries are looking for ways to reduce their reliance on imported oil, and U.S. President George W. Bush pledged $2 billion for clean coal technology during last year’s election campaign.

The European Union also plans to invest in clean coal research — but that’s in addition to plans to increase the share of renewable energy sources such as wind turbines and hydroelectric dams to 22 percent of all electricity generated by 2010. The United States has no such targets.

Clean coal technology would get more energy out of the fuel for less greenhouse emissions but would still contribute to global warming.

Among other IEA members, there was little sign of open enthusiasm for a return to coal at the Paris meeting, which called for efforts to combat the environmental effects of “growing dependence on fossil fuels,” such as coal, petroleum or natural gas, which are nonrenewable.

“The Americans are keen but not all the other members of the IEA,” said Rupert Krietemeyer, the EU’s energy spokesman. Nevertheless, Brussels believes investment in clean coal would set a “good example for countries like China, which still have lots of coal,” he said.

Members of the IEA voiced concern about persistently high oil prices, which they said “are a drag on economic activity and growth and penalize the poor.”

Oil prices have remained around $50 a barrel despite signs of mounting supplies and slower economic growth.

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