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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

US needs ‘realistic policies that support coal’

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When asked why I am so passionate about making sure our energy policies work for coal, I point out two numbers: 80 and 13,000.

Abundant, affordable coal-generated electricity is vitally important to North Dakotans now and will be for decades to come. That is why I recently introduced major legislation to make sure there is a viable path forward for this energy source that we rely on every day.

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I have a long history with energy issues — especially coal — going back to my 12 years working at Dakota Gasification in Beulah. As a result, when I joined the Senate, I was able to hit the ground running.

I am, and will continue to be, a fierce advocate in Washington for a true all-of-the-above energy policy that includes coal, oil, natural gas, wind and biofuels, just like we’re already doing in North Dakota.

We have heard a great deal of talk from President Barack Obama about an all-of-the-above energy strategy. But in reality, his administration is proposing regulations that would essentially shut down coal-fired power plants by requiring these plants to use a specific technology to reduce carbon emissions.

The problem is, this technology isn’t widely available, and it’s very expensive. If we just eliminate coal, energy prices would skyrocket and many people would lose jobs.

I have been very clear that these regulations aren’t the way to go. I even brought the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to our state in February so she could hear directly from North Dakotans about the real-world impacts of the EPA’s decisions.

We need to work on realistic policies that support coal and help it last for decades to come, while also reducing carbon emissions. That’s why I stepped up with a plan to accomplish both.

As I prepared to write my bill, I drew on my experiences working for Dakota Gasification, and I listened to folks on the ground who have to comply with rules and regulations every day.

I also hosted — with the help of the University of North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center — a coal technology summit in Washington that brought together a moderate group of senators, experts, academics and industry leaders to discuss ways to find a realistic path forward for coal.

My Advanced Clean Coal Technology Investment in Our Nation Act takes all of these experiences and lessons, and offers a clear-eyed look at where coal is now and puts forth concrete plans for coal’s future.

Instead of mandating unworkable actions, my bill incentivizes the use of technologies that reduce carbon emissions and offers federal support to help utilities adapt to a carbon-constrained world.

Many of our utilities, co-ops and coal stakeholders in North Dakota endorsed my efforts, with leaders from Otter Tail Power, Great River Energy and Minnkota Power, among others, joining me when I announced the bill in March.

Because of coal-generated electricity, North Dakotans don’t have to worry about whether the lights will turn on when we flip the switch. Not everyone understands, like we do, the important role coal plays in all of our lives. But I’ll continue to work with my colleagues on addressing unrealistic regulations and unachievable timelines.

By working together on a realistic path forward for coal, as my bill does, we can drive the conversation about this resource, provide affordable energy for all Americans, support good jobs and move toward North American energy independence. That’s good for all of us.

Heitkamp is a Democrat who represents North Dakota in the U.S. Senate. Contact her at heitkamp.senate.gov.

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