The growth demand for clean energy has focused attention on western coals, particularly the extensive lignite and sub-bituminous deposits in the Northern Great Plains. The Fort Union Powder River Coal beds, which underlie a large part of northern Wyoming, southeastern Montana and western North Dakota offer the greatest potential for development, because of the vast quantities of coal which can be strip mined. The U.S. Government has undertaken to assess coal/energy development problems through the Northern Great Plains Resources Program (NGPRP). The Water Resource Research Institutes of the three-state area, together with the Office of Water Resources Research, undertook the following tasks: to determine the study needs, to inventory current research efforts and to assess their potential contribution, to establish the priorities for study as seen by the decision makers in the three states, and to assess the capacity of the region's scientists to carry out the needed studies. Eight categories for study were identified: Trace elements; Atmospheric Effects; Surface Resources (including Reclamation); Coal Resources and Mining Techniques; Water (including Water Quality); Economic and Social Issues; Institutional and Legal Issues; and Technology Development.