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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp

Heitkamp seeks more input for ND on coal regulations

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The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded a series of Clean Air Act listening sessions, but none came within several hundred miles of North Dakota, and the state’s junior senator is not pleased about it. 

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On Tuesday, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy advocating for North Dakota, a major coal-producing state, to have more of a say on issues related to EPA-mandated regulations for power plants.

“These regulations that the EPA is looking at will have a dramatic effect on a number of states,” Heitkamp said. “Not only North Dakota, but Wyoming, Montana, West Virginia and Pennsylvania are some of the states that would be impacted. It seems to me that, if you really are interested in a diversity of opinion, you’ll go where there is a diversity of opinion, where people are truly invested in this technology and what’s available and what isn’t.”

As part of President Barack Obama’s climate action plan, rolled out in July, the EPA scheduled 11 public listening sessions within the agency’s designated regions in October and November.

The public input meetings were scheduled to take place mostly in major U.S. cities, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Dallas and Denver. The final session took place Monday in Lenexa, Kan.

The sessions were designed to gather ideas to garner the best approaches to tailor the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants, according to the EPA. In September, the EPA issued a new proposal to tighten emission standards for new power plants.

All the talk of enhanced regulation has coal-fired power plant operators and some political leaders in energy-producing states worried.

“To make people travel so far to participate, especially workers, is, in my opinion, not the right way to do this,” Heitkamp said.

“It’s wrong for (McCarthy) to ignore many of the states most dependent on coal and coal-fired power. North Dakotans who work in the coal industry, our utilities, our rural electric cooperatives, and our citizens who look to coal as a reliable and affordable source of electricity must have their voices heard,” Heitkamp wrote in her letter.

To no avail last month, Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., publicly requested that the EPA add a listening session in Bismarck. During the EPA’s Region 8 listening session in Denver, Lignite Energy Council president Jason Bohrer used his allotted time to speak about the economic benefits the lignite industry provides to North Dakota and surrounding states, according to a release from the Bismarck-based LEC.

“The lignite industry is important to (North Dakota) and its citizens because it has been one of the most stable economic drivers. Salaries of coal miners are on average double the average wage in the state and the industry provides about $100 million to the state treasury every year.”

Heitkamp noted that North Dakota is a top-10 state for coal production and electric consumption from coal-fired power and said it would be “disproportionally impacted” by any proposal that “would set unachievable regulations” on coal-fired plants. Heitkamp said the coal is responsible for more than 13,000 jobs in North Dakota.

“We’re asking (McCarthy) to reconsider her decision and to also live up to a commitment she made during her confirmation process to visit North Dakota,” Heitkamp said. “I would love the administrator to come here and see the work that’s being done here and understand how this energy explosion that we have in North Dakota truly is all-of-the-above. We have worked very hard to address concerns and we’re an economic engine for the entire country and this is an important part of our economy.”

In a statement released in July, Obama called carbon pollution “harmful” and said he is committed to “common-sense standards that will begin to put an end to the limitless release of carbon pollution from our power plants.”

On Nov. 1, Obama issued an executive order aimed at better preparing citizens for weather events caused by climate change, a move that was applauded by the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations.

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Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
(701) 456-1207
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