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Heitkamp says bill would spur investment in clean coal technology

BISMARCK – Flanked by her friends in the coal industry, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp announced a bill Monday that aims to boost investment in clean-coal technology and provide a path forward for coal to remain a vital part of the nation’s energy mix.

Heitkamp said the “Advanced Clean Coal Technology Investment in Our Nation Act,” or ACCTION Act, would give predictability and certainty to the coal industry, which she said is being challenged like never before by cheap natural gas and “an abundance and irrational source of regulation.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed new standards in September that would limit carbon dioxide emissions from new coal-fired power plants to 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour – less than half the current average for coal-fired plants, including North Dakota’s seven plants.

The public comments period for those standards ends May 9. Proposed standards for existing power plants will be issued by June, with states’ plans to meet those standards due by June 2016.

Heitkamp, who sat on the board of Bismarck-based Dakota Gasification Co. before being elected to the Senate in 2012, said the technology to meet the proposed EPA standards exists but is “just not capable of being commercially deployed in every situation.”

She said North Dakota’s coal-fired plants have done “a great job” meeting traditional pollutant standards but now face a new challenge in the proposed EPA regulations.

“And we can get there. But we aren’t going to get there overnight and we’re not going to get there without a little help,” she said.

Her bill proposes several incentives for companies to invest in technologies to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired plants, with an emphasis on carbon dioxide capture and storage and using the byproduct for enhanced oil and gas recovery.

One component would make federal funds for such projects more available by directing that coal projects receive 25 percent, or $2 billion, of the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program for fossil fuel energy.

The bill also would boost the current tax credit for carbon sequestration from coal-fired plants and create a variable price support for companies that capture carbon dioxide and sell it for enhanced oil and gas recovery so they could afford to do it regardless of the price of oil.

The Department of Energy also would be required to report to Congress on carbon capture and sequestration research and projects and recommend ways to pursue such projects through public-private partnerships.

Heitkamp’s bill differs from the approach taken by fellow coal-state Sen. Joe Manchin. The Democrat from West Virginia offered a bipartisan bill in February that would require congressional approval of any EPA-proposed rule for existing coal-fired power plants and establish specific guidelines for developing emissions standards for new power plants.

Manchin’s bill, introduced with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., passed the House on a 229-183 vote earlier this month, despite objections from environmentalists who say it will weaken the Clean Air Act.

“That is one tactic, but I think that our concern is that that bill will not be able to get the amount of support,” Heitkamp said Monday, adding she supports the intention of Manchin’s bill.

Jason Bohrer, president of the Lignite Energy Council, said the industry has been in regulatory limbo and the proposed EPA rules would be “impossible” to comply with in some instances.

“This bill is a step toward that regulatory certainty,” he said of Heitkamp’s bill.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.