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Air pollution rules prompt ND, federal regs tussle

By Dale Wetzel

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 6 2011 5:25 p.m. MDT

Dave Glatt, chief of the environmental health section of North Dakota's Department of Health, speaks on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011 to a hearing of the North Dakota Legislature's interim Natural Resources Committee in the Roughrider Room of the North Dakota state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D. Glatt said state and federal health officials sometimes have disagreements about the best way to regulate air pollution.

Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

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BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota health officials and federal regulators don't agree on the best way to reduce air pollution in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and a state administrator said Tuesday the dispute is likely to end up in court.

Dave Glatt, chief of the state Department of Health's environmental health section, told the North Dakota Legislature's interim Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday that the Environmental Protection Agency is insisting that two coal-burning power plants use pollution control technology that may not work, and is much costlier than an option that state regulators support.

State regulators, and the utilities themselves, believe the state's preferred method will reduce nitrogen oxide pollution by half, Glatt said. The EPA believes its method will cut pollution by 90 percent, but Glatt called the estimate "speculative."

The reduction is part of new federal rules intended to cut down on pollution-caused haze above some environmentally sensitive areas in western North Dakota, including the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge, which is one of the nation's top duck breeding grounds.

Glatt said even if the federal anti-pollution strategy worked as advertised, the results would not be apparent.

"This program has nothing to do with public health," he said. "The difference between the emission reductions between the two ... you would not be able to see with the human eye."

North Dakota is part of an EPA administrative region that has its headquarters in Denver. Carl Daly, director of the agency's regional air quality program, said the pollution-control technology the EPA wants is more efficient and would remove more pollutants.

Daly said the equipment would cost the plants between $260 million and $340 million to install. Glatt said the technology favored by state regulators, which he said is more suited to western North Dakota's lignite coal, will cost about $50 million.

State and federal regulators use different methods in calculating the effect of the pollution reductions on visibility. Glatt said when compared to today's views, the changes will be visually undetectable.

Daly said the EPA compares the improvement to the "natural background" view that would be available if western North Dakota's power plants did not exist.

"You certainly would be able to see the difference," he said.

The haze rules affecting North Dakota are to be published in the Federal Register, which is a compilation of rules proposed by federal agencies, within the next few weeks.

Once the rules are published, the public will have 60 days to comment on them, Daly said. An Oct. 13 public hearing has been scheduled in Bismarck.

Glatt said Tuesday he expects the proposed rules to receive EPA approval, and that the Department of Health will challenge them in court. Daly said he was confident the regulations "have been well thought through, and fully considered."

The rules are the result of extensive talks between federal and state health officials, and the EPA adopted many of the North Dakota Health Department's suggestions, Daly said.

"There's been quite a bit of back and forth," he said. "The state has done quite a bit of work on this."

The affected power plants are the Milton R. Young and Leland Olds stations. The Young station, located four miles southeast of Center, is operated by Minnkota Power Cooperative Inc. of Grand Forks; the Leland Olds plant, which is four miles southeast of Stanton, is operated by Basin Electric Power Cooperative of Bismarck.

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