ND coal industry responds to comedian's attack

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BISMARCK, N.D. - Comedian John Oliver has been known to take issue with some of North Dakota's largest industries, going as far as to buy a "Get Angry" sign in Minot after calling out the state for its environmental record. Now, he's attacking coal.

The comedian points out that coal jobs, regardless of who's president, have been dropping for decades due to the rise of natural gas and renewable sources.

However, industry leaders in the Peace Garden State are confident in coal's future.

"We're pretty bullish on the lignite industry in North Dakota," said Steve Van Dyke, Lignite Energy Council.

The Lignite Energy Council's Steve Van Dyke isn't alone.

"I feel positive about the coal industry here in North Dakota, I think if they get the deregulation going, it will enhance it even more," said Ken Nicola, Bismarck.

"Well I think there's a need for it. I understand we've got enough coal to go for a number of years in the future," said Marlowe Thorson, Bismarck.

In his HBO Show, Oliver points out Census employment records show coal employs fewer people nationwide than JC Penny's, which just closed three stores in the state. In North Dakota, however, the LEC says it's still trying to recruit for mining and power plant jobs.

"We have the Coal Creek Station that employs 200 people and the Falkirk Mine adjacent to it that employs another 450 people and these are good paying jobs. And people that work there often spend their entire career there," said Van Dyke.

President Donald Trump has said he's committed to revitalizing the coal industry, something coal supporters trust.

"I'm all for what Trump is trying to do, it just depends on the congressional backing that he gets from both parties," said Nicola.

"We had a president who seemed like he was bound and determined to put the coal miners out of business, so whether Trump can live up to all of his promises, eh, we'll wait and see," said Van Dyke.

Van Dyke says with time, the coal industry can fix it's carbon dioxide emissions issue similarly to how it complied with the Clean Air Act in the 1980s. He says carbon capture technology may also be a boon for the Bakken, using the emissions to get more oil out of fracked wells.

Van Dyke also pointed out that of North Dakota's major industries, coal is the least volatile.

He says it produces about 100 million dollars in taxes every year.

We reached out to the Dakota Resource Council this afternoon for their take, but the group declined our interview request.