Walking up and down the wind-swept prairie slopes near Beulah this week, it occurred to me that this swath of grassy land—an unmined portion of lignite coal country—probably doesn’t look like a coal mine to someone who’s not from North Dakota.
In North Dakota, we know that our coal mining is nothing like what happens in the mountains of Appalachia. We also know that our lignite industry’s environmental stewardship and reclamation practices are second to none. But the administration’s one-size-fits-all draft Stream Protection Rule, released last year, treats our mining the same as Appalachian mining and poses serious challenges for our state.
That’s what coal industry leaders reinforced with U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary Janice Schneider this week when we toured Freedom Mine, giving Schneider a glimpse of how this harmful regulation would impact our state. We showed her how the presence of small seasonal streams, which dry up in the summer, could prevent the lignite industry from accessing 600 million tons of coal across the state if the rule goes into effect as written.
The rule was initially meant to regulate mining and curb runoff in states like West Virginia, where streams flow year-round and the mountainous geography is fundamentally different from ours. Applied to North Dakota, this rule just doesn’t make sense.
The congressional delegation joined the tour, and we encouraged Schneider to listen to our coal industry leaders and rework the rule. Last week, I also called on Schneider to make sure Interior hears North Dakotans’ constructive feedback—and that officials come back to North Dakota to meet again before the rule is finalized.
It’s not just the Stream Protection Rule, though. Many of the administration’s latest moves threaten mining in our part of the world—and a threat to coal is a threat to North Dakota jobs, our economy and our reliable, redundant and affordable supply of electricity.
The freeze on new federal coal leases is another roadblock the administration has tossed at coal this year. The administration’s action seems punitive and responsive to ideological forces that are anti-coal, as there have been no bidders to speak of at recent federal lease sales.
Federal leases are no small matter for North Dakota. Around 20 percent of our coal comes from federal leases, generating around $1 million a year in royalties for the state. Half of those funds support North Dakota counties and schools, especially in coal-producing areas.
Already, the congressional delegation has pushed back. The two pending North Dakota lease applications from BNI coal should be considered and acted upon, as I’ve urged the administration to do.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules on power plants also pose a threat to North Dakota. The emissions reduction EPA is asking of our state quadruped between the draft rules and the final version released last fall, making it clear that EPA needs to go back to the drawing board.
Coal and coal miners have kept the lights on for decades. To build a viable future for coal, all sides need to give a little, and that includes making coal more efficient.
North Dakota has been paving the way to accomplish that, but we also need federal regulations that make sense for our state, rather than penalizing workers and an industry that are working in good faith to make advancements.
While the courts have put a hold on this rule, we need to work to guarantee EPA sees how it’s treating North Dakota unfairly so the agency reworks it.
By bringing U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy to the state over the past few years, I’ve worked to educate officials on how these rules impact us on the ground.
With so many challenges for coal-fired power, I’m fighting for investments in clean coal technology—and we’ve seen progress. The energy bill the U.S. Senate passed this year included my provisions supporting clean coal, and I’ve convinced colleagues across the ideological spectrum that it’s vital to invest in this technology in an increasingly carbon-constrained world.
Now more than ever, we need to stand up for coal country by making sure this and future administrations see the real-world impacts its regulations have. That’s critical if we’re going to secure a viable future for coal and the good-paying jobs it supports.
Heitkamp, a Democrat, represents North Dakota in the U.S. Senate.
See the article here.
- On May 9, 2016