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A potential vice president under Trump supports a controversial CO2 pipeline favored by the Biden White House

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is one of Donald Trump's most visible and vocal supporters, traveling across the country to drum up support for the former president's comeback while also campaigning for his running mate.

But away from the campaign trail, Burgum is wrestling with a massive carbon dioxide pipeline project in his home state. The $5.5 billion plan has divided North Dakota and put him in a difficult political position as Trump and President Joe Biden present voters with starkly different visions for dealing with climate change.

Burgum, a Republican little known outside North Dakota, is a serious contender for Trump's vice presidential nomination. The two-term governor stood out in a shrinking field because of his leadership experience and business acumen. And Burgum has close ties to deep-pocketed energy CEOs whose money Trump is seeking to bankroll in his third run for the White House.

Burgum is an advocate of the pipeline project, which would collect climate-warming CO2 from ethanol plants in the Midwest and deposit the gas a mile underground. The pipeline is in line with Biden's efforts to combat global climate change, a position that could put him at odds with Trump.

With his support for the pipeline, Burgum is addressing the sensitive issue of land ownership in deep-red North Dakota and climate policy within the Republican Party.

While Burgum has outlined plans to make North Dakota carbon neutral by 2030, he avoids calling the pipeline or other carbon capture initiatives environmentally friendly, instead touting them as a lucrative business opportunity for North Dakota that could ultimately benefit the fossil fuel industry.

“This has nothing to do with climate change,” Burgum said on a radio show in North Dakota in early March. “This has to do with the markets.”

The pipeline

The CO2 pipeline, known as the Midwest Carbon Express, is funded by hundreds of investors and built by Ames, Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solutions. The 2,500-mile pipeline route winds through Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota before ending in midwestern North Dakota, where up to 18 million tons of CO2 are trapped in underground rock formations each year.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission, which Burgum chairs, is expected to decide in the coming months whether to approve Summit's application for a permit to store all the CO2 collected there. Regulators in neighboring states are also reviewing the pipeline's approval.

As part of Biden's investments in fighting climate change, companies could receive $85 from the federal government for every ton of CO2 collected from industrial facilities and stored permanently. They could also receive $60 for every ton of CO2 stored and later used to produce more oil. This process involves pumping carbon dioxide into oil fields to keep them productive.

Summit could receive up to $1.5 billion annually from the tax credits. The company said it has no plans to use CO2 in oil production, known as enhanced oil recovery, or EOR. However, an application for a carbon dioxide storage permit written by Summit appears to leave open the possibility of using the CO2 for that purpose.

“Our business model is 100 percent sequestration,” the company said in an email response to questions. “No customer has ever approached us to transport their CO2 for EOR.”

For several environmental and advocacy groups, granting tax breaks for climate-damaging oil is a handout to oil drilling companies and runs counter to the goal of weaning companies and consumers away from fossil fuels.

“That's just not the right answer,” said Brett Hartl, director of government affairs at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. “They favor the expansion of fossil fuel use for many more years or decades.”

Burgum's office declined a request to interview the governor for this article. He has called his state's underground carbon storage capacity a “geological jackpot.” North Dakota has the capacity to store 250 billion tons of carbon dioxide underground, according to Burgum.

That message was reinforced by the North Dakota Mineral Resources Authority, which estimates that CO2 can help extract billions more barrels of oil from the rich Bakken shale formation, a 200,000-square-mile deposit that stretches across North Dakota, Montana and southern Canada.

Setback due to pipeline

In North Dakota, opposition to the Summit project was fierce, and Burgum found himself caught in the crossfire.

There are fears that a pipe burst would release a deadly cloud of CO2. In 2020, a pipeline carrying compressed carbon dioxide burst in Satartia, Mississippi. At least 45 people were hospitalized and 200 others had to be evacuated from the area, according to the federal agency responsible for pipeline safety.

Summit said the Mississippi CO2 pipeline may have contained large amounts of hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas. The system will transport nearly pure carbon dioxide, the company said, and any hydrogen sulfide or other elements in the stream are “not considered harmful.”

Landowners also fear that the value of their property could drop if the pipeline runs under their property, and they are outraged by what they say are tough tactics Summit is using to secure easements for the project.

Burgum has largely avoided the thorny issue of expropriation. If landowners don't want the pipeline on their property, the route can be changed and someone else can get the “big check,” he says.

Julia Stramer, whose family owns farmland in Emmons County and opposes the pipeline, said the amount Summit offered her for a 99-year easement was an insult.

“I have informed Governor Burgum that we have not received an offer for the 'big check,'” she told the North Dakota Public Service Commission earlier this month.

Stramer scoffed at the safety measures Summit says it is taking and told the commission that the pipeline would only be buried to a depth of just 4 feet.

“We are burying people deeper,” Stramer said.

Kurt Swenson and his family own or have an interest in 1,750 acres of land at or near the proposed carbon storage site. At a public hearing on Summit's application for a storage permit earlier this month, Swenson said he had a warning for anyone trying to seize his land without his consent.

“It seems like everyone wants what isn't theirs,” Swenson said. “In the end, you're going to take it from my cold, dead hands. And you're going to see how that works out for you.”

Summit said it has signed easements with landowners along 82 percent of the pipeline's route in North Dakota and has received 92 percent of the leases needed for the storage site. The company added the project also has support from state lawmakers and the Emergency Management Agency.

Concerns about Summit's project in Burleigh, North Dakota's second-most populous county, prompted the county commission to pass an ordinance prohibiting the pipeline from running too close to residential areas, churches and schools.

“I have not had a single contact from anyone not affiliated with Summit asking me to support this pipeline,” said Brian Bitner, chairman of the Burleigh County Commission. “Every contact has asked me to oppose it.”

Gaylen Dewing, who has worked as a farmer and rancher near Bismarck for more than 50 years, criticized Burgum for what he saw as the governor's left-leaning policies. Burgum's commitment to carbon neutrality has put the governor in cahoots with Green New Deal supporters, he said.

“Although he claims to be a conservative, he is anything but when it comes to environmental issues,” Dewing said.

No climate warrior

When Burgum campaigns for Trump, he doesn't sound like a climate activist at all.

At the North Carolina Republican convention last month, Burgum accused the Biden administration of trying to shut down the oil and gas industry and said Trump would roll back federal regulations and mandates that he said were stifling energy companies.

Trump has long criticized federal and state efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and was backed by the oil and gas industry during his three presidential runs. The former president, who has called global warming a “hoax” in the past, claims on his campaign website that Biden has capitulated to “crazy climate crusaders.”

According to political donor website Open Secrets, oil and gas companies have already donated nearly $8 million to Trump's 2024 presidential campaign.

Burgum is the type of vice presidential candidate who could help boost such donations because of his close ties to his state's most important industry.

If Burgum is not nominated as the Republican vice presidential candidate and does not take a job in a second Trump administration, he can still return to North Dakota to finish out his final term, as important decisions regarding the pipeline are pending there.

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Lardner reported from Washington.

Anna Harden

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