In 25 years, the North Dakota coal industry will be gone.
By 2050, the evidence of earth warming will be so strong that the naysayers and deniers will be forced to surrender the untenable position that they have adopted today.
As polar ice melts into the oceans, gobbling up the coastlines along our borders, earth warming will be acknowledged when millions of feet get wet on the coasts. To the discerning, the behavior of the weather already suggests that something in nature is awry.
Young people moving in
Another major reason for this prediction is based on the movement of young people into policymaking authority -- and they will not tolerate a continued denial of facts about earth warming.
According to a Gallup Poll earlier in March, the age group of 18-29 was concerned believers in earth warming. When they get to be the Congress, legislators and executives, they will bring a whole new attitude to the issue.
Those concerned about earth warming in the older age groups were around 20 points below the young group, and those are the categories still unconvinced or skeptical.
More college degrees
Another factor working against those defending earth warming will be the increase in the number of college and postgraduate people in the populace where concern about earth warming is high.
A Yale poll found that a majority of citizens now understand that they have a personal stake in checking pollution.
In a little over a decade, half of the nation’s 530 coal-fired plants have been closed. As Belshazzar said, “The hand writing is on the wall.”
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North Dakota has a big stake in the future of the coal industry. Our five coal companies produced over 27 million tons for generations in seven lignite-fired power plants in 2019. The industry pays good wages and yields taxes for state and local governments. The economic benefits are well spread.
These have been good arguments to defend the industry in the past, but the environment for future decisions will be different, with constituents actually seeing the consequences and the opinions of a new generation of policymakers.
It is important that the state demonstrate foresight on the basis of the inevitable. Right now, we have all sorts of proposals for spending the $6 billion Legacy Fund, most of which would do nothing for a legacy, e.g. tax cut proposals in a state with an embarrassingly low tax.
Other states are already planning ahead for the gradual closure of coal-fired generators.
According to Stateline, a news source about state and local governments, the owners of the Centralia Coal Plant between Portland and Seattle have met with the stakeholders (union, local governments, company executives) to hammer out a money deal.
The owners, Canada-based TransAlta, gave Centralia a decade to plan closure and $55 million for economic development, displaced workers, energy technology and energy efficiency. They will convert to wind and solar.
Colorado has opened a “Just Transition” office to support communities losing power plants. New Mexico is making closure plans by allowing plants to refinance debt payments and raise power rates.
North Dakota’s good position
With the $6 billion Legacy money, North Dakota should be well-positioned to protect the employees financially and render harmless any negative effects on nearby communities. Because plant closures are inevitable in the next couple of decades, the conversion need not be the wild rush at the close of a legislative session.
Success will be determined by the amount of foresight that can be mustered in a constantly changing political system.
Lloyd Omdahl is a political scientist and former North Dakota lieutenant governor. His column appears Sundays.
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