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State commissioner: EPA regulations could threaten ND power grid

Oil train derailments and a Canadian pipeline explosion that left North Dakota's Red River Valley without power in the midst of subzero temperatures has energy infrastructure in the headlines. But one state official says the Environmental Protection Agency is "threatening" North Dakota's power system with new emission regulations, which, he says, are impossible to comply with. 

"This is not an attempt to close down power plants," EPA Region 8 administrator Shaun McGrath said during the event, according to the Bismarck Tribune. "Coal needs to be part of our energy future." But Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann says proposed emissions regulations for new power plants tell a different story, one that could mean a bottleneck for power in a growing state. 

The EPA is taking public comment on a proposed cap of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour of electricity generated for new power plants. Now, coal-fired power plants average about 2,250 pounds per megawatt hour. During the symposium last week Christmann asked McGrath how the EPA arrived at the proposed lower number. "McGrath said he didn't have the specific data on hand but would be able to provide the PSC with that information," reported the Tribune. 

"It seems like they're just picking a number that can't be met," Christmann said in an interview. That could cause problems in a state that has been leading the nation in both economic and population growth. Oil operations, not to mention tens of thousands of new residents, are creating more demand for power. 

Christmann says that while North Dakota produces far more power than it needs, most of that power generation has already been contracted for and sold to out-of-state buyers. New demand in state will have to be met with new generation capacity. 

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