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Heitkamp: Paving a future for coal

It's not easy to get folks from coal companies and environmental groups in the same room. What's even harder is finding something they can agree on.

But after years of pushing for realistic energy policies that bring all sides together, I'm working to bridge that divide. Bipartisanship can happen if senators really want to find solutions. We saw that a few days ago as I held a press conference reintroducing my bill to extend and expand a key tax credit promoting a future for coal while also reducing its carbon emissions.

With me were Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), one of the most vocal advocates on climate change, and Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) — who, like me, are some of the most vocal advocates for coal. We were standing together introducing this bill because we want to offer a real solution.

To do that, my bill encourages companies to invest in technologies to reduce the amount of CO2 coal-fired power produces, or to harness that carbon for use in enhanced oil recovery. Tax incentives like the ones in our bill helped wind and solar take off.

For folks like me who represent coal states, the motivation is securing a path forward for coal—an abundant, reliable North Dakota resource that provides 80 percent of our state's power. But coal will continue facing challenges if we don't invest in technologies to lower emissions and keep coal competitive, as my bill would do.

For folks like Sen. Whitehouse, the motivation is to reduce emissions here and around the world. And everyone sees a huge economic benefit in developing new ways to use carbon, and exporting that technology to other countries. But whichever way you slice it, our motivations all lead to a single goal: passing a bill that coal companies and environmentalists agree is the most viable path forward on coal and natural gas.

My bill would extend and strengthen the 45Q tax credit, which encourages investment in tools that lower emissions to make sure coal remains a viable, reliable energy source.

Currently, companies receive a $20 per ton tax credit for capturing and storing CO2 and $10 per ton for reusing CO2 in enhanced oil recovery or other uses. That hasn't been enough of an incentive for innovation and implementation—but by bumping up the credits to $50 and $35 per ton respectively, we can spur the level of innovation wind and solar have benefited from.

Getting this bill across the finish line would be a win for North Dakota, which is why I'm pushing to get it done this year. With Congress more partisan than ever, getting a bill with a broad, bipartisan support signed into law would also be a win for common sense and for real, results-driven leadership.

Heitkamp represents North Dakota in the U.S. Senate.