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ND coal group welcomes new power plant emissions rule while environmentalist derides industry's 'gift'

The Great River Energy Coal Creek Station coal plant near the Falkirk mine outside of Underwood, N.D., is the largest power plant in North Dakota Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — North Dakota politicians and the head of its coal industry group welcomed a proposed Trump administration rule on power plant pollution Tuesday, Aug. 21, while a local environmentalist derided it as a "gift" to the industry.

The Environmental Protection Agency revealed the "Affordable Clean Energy" rule Tuesday, which would replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. The earlier rule never went into effect after legal challenges but would have required North Dakota to cut carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 45 percent by 2030, causing concern among utility executives.

The EPA said the new rule would allow states to develop plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-fired plants. The agency projected a smaller drop in carbon dioxide levels than the Obama administration's regulation while saving the power sector $400 million a year in compliance costs.

States would have three years to submit a plan to reduce emissions.

"This new rule proposes a more balanced (approach) that will enable states like North Dakota to pursue an all-of-the-above energy strategy in an environmentally sound manner without the burdensome constraints of a one-size-fits-all federal policy," Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, said in a statement.

Wayde Schafer, conservation organizer for the Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the Trump administration's plan won't reduce carbon dioxide emissions sufficiently to address climate change.

"This seems to be driven by the economics as far as the coal industry versus solving the problem," he said. "This is definitely a gift to (the) coal industry."

Jason Bohrer, president and CEO of the Lignite Energy Council, praised the rule and predicted it would accomplish "the goals that both the Obama administration set and those folks who are concerned about climate change want to achieve." He said the coal industry is working on technology to capture carbon dioxide, a main driver of climate change, but it's not yet commercially viable.

"This new rule recognizes that progress is ongoing, but we're not quite there yet," he said.

Bohrer estimated that "at least half" of North Dakota's power plants would have shut down under the Clean Power Plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent. North Dakota has seven coal-fired power plants, he said, and the state ranked ninth in coal production in 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement that she was "encouraged" by what she had seen of the draft rule and called the previous administration's regulation "misguided."

Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer said in a statement that the new rule "promotes energy dominance without targeting the elimination of certain power sources" but predicted environmental groups would sue to block it.

The Washington Post contributed to this report.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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