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New presidential administration casts doubts on energy future

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., was called to the podium in Bismarck in May 2016 by presidential candidate Donald Trump, who cited Cramer's energy expertise and early backing in his quest for the Republican Party nomination for president. File photo by Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — The coal industry is looking to Congress for support as a new presidential administration approaches.

"I think we have opportunities to go forward regardless of the next president," said Jason Bohrer, president of the Lignite Energy Council.

Candidates, if elected for president, can lead the nation into very different energy policies.

"This climate debate is going to continue; it's not going to go away," John Hoeven, R-N.D., said. "The American public wants our country to deal with the issue."

Presidential quandaries

A potential Donald Trump presidency raises two concerns.

Trump, who historically denies the existence of climate change, could jeopardize the energy sector's research and development, in which industry has already invested. That is coupled with another concern about the push to decrease government spending, which could cut into research funding, Bohrer said.

"How do you get through to someone who doesn't believe in climate change at a time government spending is so scrutinized?" Bohrer asked.

Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said he is not worried about a Trump presidency because Trump "always references clean coal" in his energy talks.

On the other hand, a Hillary Clinton administration might offer more interest in problem solving.

Industry could catch her interest as it works to develop clean energy technologies that keep coal in the mix, such as Project Tundra and the Allam Cycle, a zero-emissions natural gas technology that industry is trying to adapt for gasified coal. Bohrer said these are solutions that could be taken overseas, giving Clinton a way to help solve climate change problems internationally in such developing coal-dependent countries as India.

"Let's give her a solution that tackles climate change but also keeps industry afloat," Bohrer said.

One drawback: There are concerns that the constituents of a Clinton administration may not be willing to consider coal no matter the circumstance.

Senate confirmations key

Cramer said, no matter who is elected, a new president must "learn there's a reason for Congress" and believes he or she will be more attentive to the legislative branch.

"Senate approval might have to be a little more rigorous," he said.

Bohrer echoed Cramer, saying industry is asking senators to be "as critical as they can in the nominee confirmation process," especially in confirming federal agency heads and a new supreme court justice, who will likely have a say in industry's court battle against federal regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said it will be important for any U.S. Environmental Protection Agency appointee to commit to reviewing the Clean Power Plan, giving industry a longer and more workable timeline to develop the technology to reduce emissions and still keep coal plants operational.

"If you're concerned with the climate, you need to be concerned with clean coal," Heitkamp said.