North Dakota defends state’s plan

Scott Handy, CEO of Cass County Electric, testifies at the EPA hearing in Bismarck that was held October 13-14.

(The following is an editorial by Scott Handy that appeared in the November 2011 issue of Highline Notes.)

To no one’s great surprise, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has gone ahead with its intent to set aside the North Dakota Department of Health plan for regional haze and replace it with a one-size-fits-all federal implementation plan. The official notice of EPA’s takeover appeared in the Federal Register on September 21, triggering a 60-day public comment period.

By way of a refresher on this topic, the federal Clean Air Act contains, among many other things, a section on improving visibility in certain areas such as national parks. The EPA is in charge of writing the rules as to how this is supposed to take place, and then each state is charged with putting in place its own plan to comply with EPA’s rules. In North Dakota the Department of Health is the agency that does this. The Department of Health implemented a plan to do just that, following EPA’s own guidelines every step of the way. Electric generating plants in North Dakota have followed everything the state plan requires, incurring hundreds of millions of dollars in expense in the process. The equipment and procedures are in place, they’re working, and regional haze-inducing emissions have been cut back substantially. EPA, in many cases ignoring its own rules and procedures, has published notice that it will set aside the state plan and impose its own federal plan. The price tag for Minnkota Power Cooperative (from whom we buy 100% of our wholesale power): about $500 million. That would lead to a 30 to 35% wholesale increase, on top of the significant increases we’ve recently had, over $20 million each year for CCEC members.

The EPA is required to take public comments for 60 days after the Federal Register notice, so the public comment period is open until November 21, 2011.

The time to act is now! If you object to this federal takeover of a well-designed and working state plan, developed with local knowledge and expertise, let the EPA know by registering your comments at

The EPA also held a hearing in Bismarck on October 13 and 14 to take both public and expert witness comments on its federal takeover plan. I attended most of the hearing sessions, and at least one person from CCEC was present at all times. While some witnesses supported the EPA plan, the majority of witnesses urged EPA to drop its federal plan and support the state plan. Our Congressional delegation all gave powerful testimony in opposition to EPA’s plan, as did our Governor, Attorney General and a Public Service Commissioner. Here’s a sampling of the points made by these witnesses, as well as by several industry and Department of Health experts:
• North Dakota is one of 12 states that already complies with all EPA ambient air standards
• Regional haze, by the EPA’s own definition, is about visibility (“cosmetics” in the words of Sen. Hoeven), not about health
• EPA’s plan unlawfully takes away North Dakota’s authority to manage this process
• Billings County, home to Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP), has the third cleanest air of all counties in the US
• Only 6.3% of the haze in TRNP on the worst days comes from ND sources
• The technology required by EPA may actually increase haze problems in summer months
• The EPA’s model for predicting emissions reductions of its preferred technology has been proven to greatly overstate the benefits
• The Department of Health properly determined its course of action, including the cost effectiveness of alternatives, using the EPA’s own manual and procedures
• The EPA’s own cost manual indicates that the cost estimates for technology it wants to impose on ND plants are unreliable and require individual engineering analyses (which it has not done)
• The EPA ignored significant technical filings because it “lacked sufficient time” to review them
• The EPA’s required regional haze improvements will not be met even if every ND coal plant is completely shut down because what few haze problems exist do not come from ND sources
• The visibility improvements the EPA claims will be made by its required technology will not be perceptible to the human eye, by the EPA’s own calculations
• According to the Department of Health, it “followed the law and the science in implementing its state plan; the EPA followed neither”

Witnesses at the hearing made compelling arguments in opposition to EPA’s takeover of the state plan. Now the ball is in EPA’s court. It must consider and answer all comments made at the hearing and received during the public comment period. We can only hope that the EPA has not already taken a position allegedly adopted by a judge in the historic wild west – “you will have a fair and impartial trial, after which you will be hung.”

Please make your voice heard on this issue by filing your own comments at We are, and will remain, good stewards of our clean North Dakota environment, but in this case the EPA has gone too far.

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