Amid a debate on whether clean coal is like healthy cigarettes or not, energy secretary Steven Chu said on Wednesday the U.S. must take global leadership in clean coal technologies.

Speaking at a Congressional hearings on climate legislation, Chu said the country has to support coal burning operations but with clean technology, and specifically he said the U.S. has to develop technology that captures carbon at the stack.

This is something very important to the U.S., we have the largest coal reserves in the world, Chu said at today while discussing a draft of a climate bill.

However the energy secretary did not discard other clean-coal technologies today, including gasification which he said we would like very much to bring to commercial scale.

The gasification industry is waiting for financial incentives to be enacted which will allow the plants to be built, said Jim Childress, the Executive Director of the Gasification Technologies Council.

China is rapidly expanding its coal facilities at a pace of one plant per week or two, Chu recalled but noted that China does not applies carbon capture technologies.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 discussed today was written by Congressmen Henry Waxman and Ed Markey and is seen as one of the most important energy legislation proposals in decades. The laws would change policies on energy efficiency, renewable energy standards and a cap-and-trade system to lower carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.