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Letter: ND's lignite industry has been a good neighbor

Van Dyke writes, "While North Dakota has always been a clean air state under the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations, some people who believe in a 'leave it in the ground' philosophy have tried to portray this industry as 'dirty polluters.'"

Steve Van Dyke.jpg
Steve Van Dyke is vice president of communications for the Lignite Energy Council. Contributed / Lignite Energy Council

The state’s bountiful, economical lignite coal reserves are estimated to last another 800 years at today’s production rate of nearly 30 million tons a year. Besides being a sustainable industry, it has also been a good neighbor providing high paying jobs, taxes to local and state treasuries as well as affordable and reliable electricity to utilities and electric co-ops not only in this state but surrounding states.

This history of the lignite industry dates back to the 1870s. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that utilities stepped on the accelerator to build the industry we have today. New mines and power plants were being built as the nation needed an edge against imported oil from OPEC countries.

While North Dakota has always been a clean air state under the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations, some people who believe in a “leave it in the ground” philosophy have tried to portray this industry as “dirty polluters.”

The power plants are equipped with technology to remove pollutants, and the state and industry are now looking at ways to capture carbon dioxide from power plants. Studies have also been conducted to safely store the CO2 underground or use it for enhanced oil recovery in the western part of the state.

The industry’s detractors who look at the vital statistics for North Dakota and particularly the three coal counties – Mercer, McLean and Oliver – might find it hard to believe that the average age of death for the five years beginning in 1975 was 70.3, but over the next 35 years, the average lifespan in the three coal counties grew. For the last five years – 2006 to 2020 – the coal counties saw the average age of death to be 74.72 years.

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There are several reasons for the increase – better medicines, people eating better and exercising more…but there is one major factor that is often forgotten. The best health care policy offered by an employer is a reliable paycheck.

This is where the lignite industry is the strongest. People who work at the mines and power plants have seen job stability. The industry has about 4,000 direct jobs and another 11,000 indirect jobs.

While the lignite industry provides economic value throughout the state, the greatest impact is in the central counties that once were strictly farm and ranch communities. When lignite production and coal conversion plants arrived, many of the state’s young people no longer had to leave the state for good paying jobs – they were right in their own backyard.

A recent workforce study conducted by the North Dakota State University shows how important the lignite industry is to local communities such as Beulah, Center, Hazen, Washburn and Underwood. Average total compensation for all jobs in the state is $74,489. Average total compensation for coal mining is $152,667 and electricity generation is $165,498.

So, before we kill the goose that laid the golden egg, we need to appreciate the many benefits of the lignite industry.

Van Dyke is vice president of communications for the Lignite Energy Council.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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