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Keep coal-based electricity in the mix

The lignite industry in North Dakota provides affordable and reliable electricity to about 2 million people in the Upper Midwest, many of them in northern and western Minnesota. The state’s four lignite mines are known for excellent reclamation of mined lands and North Dakota is one of only nine states to meet all federal ambient air standards. North Dakota and Minnesota also enjoy some of the lowest priced electricity, thanks to coal-based power plants.

But that stellar record of achievement is at risk. In late March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a greenhouse gas rule that is already in effect for certain new electric generation facilities. The problem with the proposed rule is that it basically takes coal out of the equation for new generation by requiring new coal-based plants to meet carbon dioxide emissions levels equal to a combined cycle natural gas plant. This amounts to more than a 50 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in order to meet the standard.

Up to this point, rules that sought to regulate traditional air pollutants have stemmed from the Clean Air Act and amendments that were passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. The Clean Air Act was never intended to regulate greenhouse gases, but President Obama’s administration has been implementing new rules directed at just that — regulating greenhouse gases. The proposed greenhouse gas rule establishes a troubling precedent by setting a standard for one fuel (natural gas) that is not achievable by another fuel (coal) with existing commercially available technology. In essence, the EPA has picked the winner for future electric generation. But having all of our eggs in one basket is not a risk that the American public should have to make considering that our country has more coal reserves than any other country.

As our regional economy grows, we need more affordable and reliable electricity. It doesn’t make economic sense to remove coal-based electricity from the mix. I encourage you to reach out to your U.S. Representatives and Senators and ask them to support coal-based electricity by passing laws that will allow all generation sources to compete in a fair and open marketplace.