Shortly after that news broke I was broadcasting an episode of Plain Talk Live with former Democratic-NPL executive director Chad Oban, and he remarked that it was the "most liberal" policy announcement made by a North Dakota politician in some time.

Except, it isn't.

Not really.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Certainly, carbon neutrality is something our friends on the left talk about a lot, but their tactics for reaching that goal are all about inhibiting coal and oil and natural gas development through byzantine regulatory mazes, endless litigation and intense (and sometimes even violent) political pressure.

What Burgum is talking about is something very different. What he's calling for is a recognition that energy sources such as oil and coal are still tremendously useful in our modern society, but their development needs innovation to bring them in line with modern understanding about emissions.

"This may seem like a moonshot goal, but it's actually not," Burgum told the conference, and he's right because this sort of thing has been going on for a while now.

Thanks to research and development backed by the state's lignite coal industry (and the sort of public research investments coal's enemies like to mischaracterize as "subsidies"), from 2007 through 2016 mercury emissions declined 68% according to the state Department of Health. During that same time window, the state's coal industry reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by 67% and nitrogen oxide by 46%.

The point? If we can cut through the rote political miasmas, prudent investment can accomplish things the blinkered activists tell us won't work.

We did it with mercury, SOx, and NOx, and we can do it with carbon, too.

The Legislature already got the ball rolling in their just-completed session.

House Bill 1452 allocated $25 million to a clean energy fund to help develop low-emission technology. Senate Bill 2065 lays down the regulatory tracks needed to begin storing flaring emissions underground and the budget for the North Dakota Industrial Commission includes $9.5 million to study the feasibility of it.

SB 2328 grants tax credits for oil well flare mitigation. SB 2152 expands the sales and use tax exemption to underground carbon storage. SB 2206 "allows utilities to recover costs for carbon capture," according to a news release from Burgum's office.

Is some of this stuff the sort of government intervention that conservatives typically oppose? Perhaps, but then they wouldn't be necessary if it weren't for the politically motivated regulations, litigation, and activism I mentioned.

My point, and Burgum's point, is that this can be done.

This has been done.

We can continue to make coal and oil and gas cleaner, and keep those abundant resources viable, and all we really have to do is try.

To comment on this article, visit

Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at