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Coal industry officials pledge to maintain projects aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions

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's coal industry won't back down from its carbon capture initiatives despite the country's withdrawal from the U.S. Paris Climate Agreement.

"We could have lived with a modified Paris Climate Agreement," said Lignite Energy Council President Jason Bohrer, who indicated the country's removal from the agreement reduces the risk that a future president may use the agreement as an excuse to clamp down on carbon dioxide emissions again.

Either way companies are not stopping pursuit of projects that will create an economic benefit for collecting carbon.

One benefit of the agreement was the priority it set for research and development of clean coal, and the administration's decision to withdraw raises questions on whether industry will be able to get the federal funding it plans to seek for that research, according to Bohrer.

North Dakota's congressional delegation also said they would have rather seen a renegotiation of the deal rather than a full withdrawal.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., called it "abundantly clear that the agreement, which is and will remain legally nonbinding, does not prohibit lowering the American pledge," which was set at a 26 to 28 percent emission reduction. He said the country would have benefited from President Donald Trump's negotiating powers and a seat at the table.

He called for the president to revise the pledge, end monetary contributions to the Green Climate Fund and use the country's position in the agreement to push for initiatives that would protect U.S. manufacturing and fossil fuels.

"The United States can't remain an energy leader if we aren't even at the negotiating table," said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. "No agreement is perfect, and adjusting our commitments or timetable would have been viable avenues to pursue. But abandoning this agreement altogether is a reckless decision that forfeits an opportunity to guarantee a viable future for North Dakota coal, oil and natural gas on the global level."

The lawmakers "all bring up valid points," according to Bohrer, who said industry understands that the global body of researchers is not happy about the withdrawal.

"For generations, our country has been a global leader, dictating the conversation around the world on a host of issues," Heitkamp said. "With this move, that now changes, and I fear we'll be left behind on climate and energy issues as well as many others."

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