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Legal challenges buy time to develop clean coal

Jason Bohrer, president of the Lignite Energy Council. Submitted photo.

BISMARCK — The race for clean coal technologies was set off by the implementation of federal regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Coal Plan has been challenged by industry in court and both sides are awaiting a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit after oral arguments given last month. A ruling is expected by the end of the year or early next year.

"I think industry and the court want to move to a carbon-constrained future," said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who has indicated he thinks the court will likely remand the Clean Power Plan back to the EPA for revision.

In the meantime, the U.S. Supreme Court has stayed the rule as it makes its way through the judicial system. The case against the rule is expected to eventually reach the Supreme Court.

"I don't know where we would have been without the Clean Power Plan," Lignite Energy Council President Jason Bohrer said, in terms of investment in clean coal technology. "I think it has increased awareness we need to have a commercially viable solution sooner than later."

Industry is not standing still as the legal battle proceeds.

Coal power is doing everything it can to put itself in a position to save existing jobs and develop new ones.

Proponents of the Clean Power Plan have said coal jobs would be replaced with clean energy jobs.

"There are not a lot of jobs in renewables compared to coal, natural and nuclear," said Bohrer, pointing out that jobs that do exist in the renewable sector are in the research and development phase — jobs the council wants to bring to North Dakota through investment in commercial projects.

On the side of litigation, which the state of North Dakota is a party to, Bohrer said industry is glad the state has taken the position of fighting the Clean Power Plan in court. It also approves of the North Dakota Department of Health pausing its development of a plan to meet Clean Power Plan standards.

Because of this pause, Bohrer said industry is able to continue gathering data.

"We're learning more now than what we thought possible," he said.

For example, industry is getting information from a carbon capture project at Boundary Dam Power Station near Estevan, Saskatchewan, and is getting a better idea of the timeline for making the technology commercially viable, whether it is as efficient as originally planned, how much carbon it is capturing compared to initial estimates and how it could be adapted for lignite coal.

"If the state had moved forward, we'd be leaving a lot of good information by the wayside," Bohrer said.