"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." Theodore Roosevelt
Aided by Interior Secretary Harold Ickes and U.S. Senator Joseph O'Mahoney, the Synthetic Liquid Fuels Act was approved on April 5, 1944. The Act authorized $30 million for a five-year effort for: "...the construction and operation of demonstration plants to produce synthetic liquid fuels from coal, oil shales, agricultural and forestry products, and other substances, in order to aid the prosecution of the war, to conserve and increase the oil resources of the Nation, and for other purposes."
Optimism reigned supreme in the first year of the expanded national synthetic fuels effort. In August 1949, the Bureau's synfuels experts issued a stunning assertion that they could make gasoline from coal for as little as 1.6 cents per gallon before profits and taxes. From 1949 to 1953, the Missouri hydrogenation plant – which had cost $10 million to build – produced 1.5 million gallons of synthetic gasoline, 1 million of which was fleet tested by the armed services. Operations, however, were sporadic. The plant was hindered by metal erosion and mechanical difficulties. Nonetheless, the 78-octane unleaded coal-derived gasoline it produced was found equal to conventional petroleum-based gasoline. The synthetic gasoline fueled the motor vehicles used by the plant.
The second plant at Louisiana, MO, was completed in 1950 and began full operation in 1951. Almost from day one, however, the 80-barrel per day test facility was plagued by disintegration of the chemical catalysts used to convert the coal gas into liquid fuels. Only 40,000 gallons of liquid products were produced by the $5 million plant. Although World War II was over, America's petroleum appetite showed no signs of abating, and interest in synthetic fuels continued. On September 22, 1950, Congress approved a second amendment to the Synthetic Liquid Fuels Act, adding another three years and another $17.6 million – bringing the total to $87.6 million.
America's energy sights were also beginning to shift toward giant oil fields that had been found in the Middle East. American companies were striking deals with Persian Gulf oil sheiks for the rights to drill and produce the massive discoveries. The geopolitical center of America's oil supply was beginning to shift, and so too was its politics. In 1952, Americans elected Dwight D. Eisenhower as the 36th President of the United States. Carrying 39 states and winning the electoral vote 442 to 89, Eisenhower brought "modern Republicanism" into the conduct of domestic affairs. He called for reduced taxes, balanced budgets, a return of certain responsibilities to the states (including title to valuable tideland oil reserves), and a decrease in government control over the economy. The Republican Party also won control of Congress by a slim margin.
In March 1953 when the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee opened its budget hearings, its first official act was to kill funds for the Louisiana, MO, synthetic fuel plants. The cost of synthetic fuels was too high for the government to bear, the Committee stated. Estes Kefauver, then out of Congress but later elected to the U.S. Senate, claimed that the nation's oil companies had been behind the Committee's action because they did not want the competition from coal. A short time later, the Committee voted to cease funding for all the programs authorized under the Synthetic Fuels Act. Within 90 days, the Missouri plants were closed and turned back to the Department of the Army. The coal hydrogenation plant returned to making ammonia.