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Patrick Springer, Published January 30 2007

Lawmakers say it’s time for a change

Members of the congressional delegations for North Dakota and Minnesota generally agree that growing concerns about global climate change call for policy prescriptions.

Many also agree that some form of a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon dioxide emissions over time is likely to emerge as part of any solution, a market approach that has succeeded in reducing acid rain pollutants.

But the rub will be when and where to draw the line in capping emissions – regulations that would fall heavily on industries that use coal, oil and other fossil fuels.

“Frankly we’ve got industries at risk in North Dakota,” said Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. “Is it a haircut or is it a decapitation?”

Pomeroy said his discussions in recent years with representatives of the lignite and coal-fired electricity industry reflect a growing acknowledgment that some form of greenhouse gas restrictions probably will be adopted.

That’s a softening of their earlier opposition, he said. Still, Pomeroy and Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, fellow Democrats, agree that any carbon dioxide restriction policies must be carefully drafted so they don’t cause economic upheavals or energy disruptions.

In Washington, the debate has shifted from the science to the economic implications of addressing global warming. President Bush, in his recent State of the Union address, spoke of the need to act. Although the president doesn’t support emissions caps, he called for major increases in renewable fuel use and unspecified increases in mileage standards for vehicles.

“We’ve got to respond to the threat of global climate change,” Conrad said. He has introduced energy legislation that, among other things, provides support for clean coal and carbon capture technologies.

“That’s a win-win for North Dakota,” he said, noting the area has oilfields that could benefit from capturing carbon dioxide and using it to pump oil out of the ground.

“Some have said you just have to do away with coal,” Conrad said. “I think that’s unrealistic.”

Conrad, Dorgan and Pomeroy have supported federal clean coal research, much of it done by the University of North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center, which last year announced it has developed zero emissions coal technology.

Now the challenge is to make the technology commercially viable – work Dorgan said he will support as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds energy projects.

“I favor approaches that will gradually ratchet down approaches,” Dorgan said.

Sen. Amy Kloubuchar,D-Minn., sits on three committees that will be influential in shaping climate change policies – environment, agriculture and commerce.

“I’m going to be in a unique situation to work with other senators,” she said. The solutions will be broad and varied, she added, including support of renewable energy – but can’t shrink from addressing the root problem.

“I think it will involve some kind of emission standards,” Kloubuchar said. “I see this as actually being a benefit to our economy,” she added.

Sen. Norm Coleman,R-Minn., isn’t opposed to the concept of a cap-and-trade system, but any carbon restrictions must be carefully crafted to avoid losses of jobs or other problems.

“It’s time for Congress to act on climate change legislation, and I believe we need a more concerted effort to reduce greenhouse gas production – this problem cannot be left to our children to solve,” he said.

Coleman has asked the Energy Information Agency to report back to him on the promise of instituting a mandatory clean renewable energy standard, which he will review along with other proposals.

Efforts to reach Rep. Collin Peterson, R-Minn., weren’t successful. He has been a champion of renewable energy initiatives, including ethanol and other biofuels, an agenda he will push as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

Members of the Minnesota and North Dakota delegations say climate change has taken on greater urgency than before, and that Congress will respond. But the debate is early, and the details of consensus solutions have yet to take shape.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522