Employment Impacts of Air-Pollution Controls at North Dakota Coal Plants

TGG has been evaluating green job impacts for over 30 years. In November 2011, TGG prepared an expert report for the Sierra Club (National) entitled Employment Impacts of Air Pollution Controls at North Dakota Coal Plants. The purpose of this study was to estimate the employment impacts of pollution-control expenditures at the Milton R. Young and Leland Olds coal-fired plants in North Dakota.

TGG estimated that the EPA’s proposed requirement (since withdrawn) for the installation of Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) for NOx reduction at these plants would have created 7,700 temporary jobs and 180 permanent new positions. The bulk of the jobs (5,100 temporary jobs and 130 permanent jobs) would have been be in North Dakota.

In addition to the EPA’s proposed requirement for SCR, the North Dakota plants had already installed scrubbers and other pollution control measures required by North Dakota in its State Implementation Plan (SIP). The two programs combined would have delivered 20,200 temporary jobs and 1,130 permanent jobs to the US economy, with most of these jobs in North Dakota. In addition to the reduction of harmful pollutants, as well as health and visibility benefits, pollution control measures undertaken in the SIP program and proposed in the SCR program would have resulted in important economic development benefits.

Despite the economic and employment benefits demonstrated in the TGG Report, the EPA’s proposed SCR requirement was opposed by the State of North Dakota and the coal industry (and was the target of legal challenges). In 2012, the EPA reversed its proposed SCR requirement for the North Dakota coal plants and approved a final plan with weaker pollution controls.

Update: Over the past decade, as climate change awareness (and impacts) have increased, the environmental movement has shifted its focus with respect to coal generation. Instead of advocating for air pollution controls for coal plants, the focus is increasingly on their replacement with renewable generation. The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) called for the reduction of GHG emissions from electricity generation. Under the CPP, the EPA assigned each state an individual goal for reducing power plant emissions. Conversely, the Trump Administration tried to protect the coal industry by replacing the CPP with the less stringent Affordable Clean Energy Act and weakened air pollution control regulation for coal plants.

President Biden has promised an ambitious clean energy plan with 100% clean electricity by 2035. This plan is considerably more ambitious than the CPP and will likely face steep challenges. However, President Biden’s early actions in office have confirmed his commitment to addressing climate change. On March 2, 2021, House Democrats introduced the CLEAN Future Act, the first major piece of climate legislation under Biden. The Act would require the power sector to generate 100% of their power from zero-emissions resources by 2035 and bring GHG emissions to net zero by 2050. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is currently holding legislative hearings on the Bill. A key component of the Bill, the Clean Energy Standard (CES), is the subject of vigorous debate. The Democrats themselves are divided with respect to the qualification of natural gas, nuclear energy and CCS for clean energy credits. As of June 2021, the Bill has not yet passed the House.