Will the Revolving Door Take Dorgan to Coal Country?

Photo courtesy of Dorgan's Senate website.

One nugget buried in Byron Dorgan’s official statement on retirement caught my attention: the three-term senator plans to do work on energy policy from the private sector after finishing his term.

Although I still have a passion for public service and enjoy my work in the Senate, I have other interests and I have other things I would like to pursue outside of public life. I have written two books and have an invitation from a publisher to write two more books. I would like to do some teaching and would also like to work on energy policy in the private sector.

It’s a fleeting mention, but it’s indeed interesting, as Dorgan remains one of the key potential votes on cap-and-trade legislation. He has thus far not been very enthusiastic about voting for a bill. “I’m in favor of taking action to reduce CO2 emissions and to protect our environment. But I don’t support the ‘cap-and-trade’ plan now being debated in the Congress,” he wrote in an editorial in The Bismarck Tribune last summer.

His biggest interest when it comes to cap-and-trade: protecting coal. He has been among the staunchest advocates for coal in the Senate. “We need a future in which we continue to use our most abundant resource, and that’s coal,” said Dorgan during debate of the energy bill last year.

Coal-fired power plants produce more than 90 percent of North Dakota’s power, and the state has the largest lignite coal deposit in the world. Lignite mining is the state’s fifth-largest industry, bringing in roughly $3 billion each year. Electric utilities have been Dorgan’s fourth-largest contributor over his career, at $426,207, and energy and natural resources companies have also given him more than $829,000.

Now, he’s also been an advocate of wind power, which is also abundant in his state. So there’s always the chance that he will go on to consult on wind policy. But it seems most likely that the revolving door will drop him off in coal country. And if that is the case, it seems to indicate that Dorgan would be even less likely to vote for a cap-and-trade plan this year that would hurt the coal industry.


What's going to happen next as the headlines grow crazier and more disconcerting by the day. But we do know the job of an independent, unrelenting press is more important than ever—and the ongoing commitment of MoJo readers to fight for a democracy where facts matter and all can participate is absolutely vital.

If you feel the urgency deep in your bones like we do, please consider signing up as a monthly donor during our fall pledge drive to support Mother Jones' fair and fearless reporting for the long haul (or make a one-time gift if that works better for you). The headlines may fade, but the need to investigate the powerful never will.

  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.