BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota’s “continued prosperity” is at stake and the state’s $4 billion lignite industry is in “mortal danger” due to new federal rules mandating a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fueled power plants, an industry official told lawmakers Tuesday.
“The magnitude of this problem is greater than anything we’ve ever dealt with,” Lignite Energy Council President Jason Bohrer told the Legislature’s Taxation Committee.
President Barack Obama last August unveiled new federal rules designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants. Under the new standards, North Dakota must cut its emission rate by almost 45 percent by 2030.
North Dakota and more than 20 other states sued the Environmental Protection Agency over the new standards. North Dakota officials argue the new rules go beyond EPA’s authority and will drive up the cost of electricity at the expense of ratepayers and hurt the state’s economy.
The EPA says the rules are an important step on climate change to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.
North Dakota has seven electric power plants that are fueled by lignite, an abundant but low-grade coal that is mined in the state. Bohrer said 55 percent of the power produced from those factories is exported to nine surrounding states, including Minnesota, which is backing the EPA’s new rules.
Bohrer said the North Dakota plants are in danger of being shuttered because there is no cost-effective technology commercially available at present to remove carbon dioxide.
Bohrer told lawmakers that the industry will need help from the state by way of tax incentives and funding for research to meet the new standards.
Maggie Olson, an assistant North Dakota attorney general, said the states’ lawsuits against the EPA likely would be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Meantime, state health officials are working to develop an implementation plan for the new rules, said Dave Glatt, chief of the North Dakota Department of Health’s environmental health section.
Glatt said even if the rules are overturned by the nation’s high court or Congress, the issue of greenhouse gases is not going away and the state must have a plan to address the issue.
“We are going to be in a reduced-carbon future,” Glatt told lawmakers. “That’s a given.”
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