EPA: ND must cut emissions by nearly 11 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Coal-reliant North Dakota would need to reduce its carbon emissions from power plants by nearly 11 percent by 2030 as part of a national proposal released Monday by President Barack Obama's administration that federal officials say is designed to reduce pollutants that cause global warming.

It would require a 30 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2030 from 2005 levels. The plan sets individual targets for each state from the Environmental Protection Agency allowing states like North Dakota, which relies heavily on coal-fired energy, to move more slowly toward curbing emissions.

North Dakota government and energy officials said they would need time to take in the 645-page plan. But coal producers reacted angrily, saying the administration's plan would be costly and harmful to consumers.

"While it will take some time to wade through the rules to fully understand the specifics, the Obama administration's proposal to regulate existing power plants so far indicates that it is a recipe for disaster for coal-based generating stations," said Lignite Energy Council President Jason Bohrer.

The proposal gives states until 2017, and possibly 2018 if they partner with another state, to offer plans for how they will comply. That time frame is likely to lead to a prolonged political fighting over the proposal, which EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said was "about protecting our health and our homes" and "protecting local economies and jobs."

Congressional response was lukewarm. Democrat Heidi Heitkamp said she was still reviewing the proposal but that the U.S. needed "policies that support coal — defending jobs, keeping energy costs low, and maintaining reliability in our electrical grid."

Republican Sen. John Hoeven said the new rules "will do little to reduce carbon emissions, but will reduce jobs, hinder our economy and increase the cost of everything, from food to heat."

While North Dakota now produces large amounts of oil and natural gas, the state is still heavily reliant on coal for energy. In 2013, 79 percent of the state's electricity generation came from coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. About 16 percent of North Dakota's electricity came from wind and 5 percent came from hydroelectric power sources.

North Dakota currently flares more than 30 percent of the natural gas it produces, or more than 300 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. The natural gas burned is enough to power 1 million homes.

Natural gas is a byproduct of oil production. While it can be valuable, without infrastructure in place to capture and transport or reuse it, natural gas is burned off by oil producers.

Environmental groups welcomed the rules. "This is a rule whose time has come," said Wayde Schafer, the Sierra Club's North Dakota organizer.

Schafer said the EPA's proposal would also provide flexibility to states like North Dakota.

What's not clear is how soon North Dakota will act on the Obama administration proposal. Terry O'Clair, who leads the state's Division of Air Quality, said discussions would take place over the next few months about its feasibility.

The plan is virtually certain to face legal and other challenges and, because states are not required to submit plans until after Obama leaves office, it's also possible that another administration could alter the plan or take a different course altogether.

Some members of Congress have also said they will do what they can to block the proposal, although the administration does not need to seek Congress' approval to put the plan in place. Stopping or slowing the rules could become easier if Republicans retake the Senate in fall elections.

The Obama administration said states could take a number of paths to meet the new emissions goals, including working with other states. Other possibilities include increasing their uses of what it terms "clean energy" such as wind power, improved energy efficiency and increased use of natural gas.

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Associated Press writer Joshua Wood in Williston, N.D., contributed to this report.