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ND delegation advocates funding for clean coal technology, but Trump's budget cuts research

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND1 / 2
U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND2 / 2

BISMARCK—President Donald Trump says he wants to save coal, but his budget proposal includes steep cuts for research that could advance the industry.

North Dakota's Congressional delegation is pushing for funding to research clean coal technology.

"We cannot leave coal behind as a resource for generation of electricity, but we've got to do it in a way that guarantees its future," said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

Heitkamp recently led a group of 16 Democratic senators who wrote a letter to a Senate Appropriations subcommittee urging strong U.S. Department of Energy investments in carbon capture, utilization and storage technology.

"As the world transitions towards a carbon constrained economy, investment in CCUS technology will spur economic development and ensure energy security while protecting the environment from carbon dioxide emissions," the letter read.

Under Trump's budget proposal, funding for the Department of Energy's Fossil Energy Research and Development Program would be reduced to $280 million, a 56 percent cut from the 2017 budget of $631 million. Within that program, funding for research on carbon capture and storage would be cut 85 percent.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., a member of the Congressional Coal Caucus, also is advocating for more funding.

"Coal is such an abundant resource and it's such a low-cost resource," Cramer said. "I believe there are technologies that are emerging in carbon capture and storage, especially as it relates to enhanced oil recovery, that make economic sense if the technology can be developed and commercialized."

A House Appropriations subcommittee recently approved significantly more funding for the Fossil Energy Research and Development Program, nearly restoring it to 2017 levels, Cramer said.

"It's possible we could see an increase before it gets to the House floor," he said.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., recently secured a commitment from Energy Secretary Rick Perry to support pilot and demonstration projects for carbon capture and sequestration.

During a recent hearing, Hoeven highlighted two projects in North Dakota, Project Tundra, which seeks to retrofit an existing coal-fired plant to capture carbon emitted by the plant, and the Allam Cycle, which is a zero-carbon emissions technology for new plants.

To realize the benefits of carbon capture technology, it needs to be "commercially viable, not just technically feasible," said Hoeven, who has invited Perry to visit North Dakota.

"That means moving the research out of the lab and into the field with pilot and demonstration projects," Hoeven said in a statement. "We have two innovative projects in North Dakota, and I'm working to ensure DOE has money in the budget to move these efforts forward."

Jason Bohrer, president of the North Dakota Lignite Energy Council, said the organization is working to educate the Energy Department on its research needs.

"If the budget's not increased, it would really slow down the next generation technologies," Bohrer said.