BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Environmental groups say the federal government should order two coal-fired power plants in western North Dakota to use more sophisticated pollution-control technology, but state officials say the matter already has been settled and no more debate is needed.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency is taking written comments through June 17 on an appeal of North Dakota's regional haze plan approved last year. The EPA took testimony on the appeal during a pair of hearings in Bismarck on Wednesday.
The North Dakota chapter of the Sierra Club and other groups disagree with a decision in which the EPA agreed with the state position that Minnkota Power Cooperative's Milton R. Young Station at Center and the Basin Electric Power Cooperative's Leland Olds Station at Stanton could use less-expensive technology to reduce haze that could affect Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
"Our national parks represent the best of America and the law requires they be protected from preventable air pollution," said Stephanie Kodish, a spokewokman for the National Parks Conservation Association. "Each year hundreds of thousands of people visit North Dakota's national parks and they expect clear, healthy air when they get there. It is incumbent upon EPA to provide the visitors to places like Theodore Roosevelt National Park with a clean air future."
The Sierra Club said the less-expensive pollution controls are weaker, and that the plants should use the best-available technology.
"It is critical for our state to move forward with a plan that incorporates the best possible solutions for reducing coal pollution across North Dakota," said Wayde Schafer, a North Dakota spokesman for the Sierra Club. "We have serious concerns with the current proposal."
State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the issue has been settled after years of debate about whether the more expensive controls initially favored by the EPA would even work, and that the EPA should reject the appeal. Gov. Jack Dalrymple also testified Wednesday in support of the state plan.
"We have a long and proven record of operating an effective clean air program which has resulted in North Dakota being one of only 12 states to comply with all federal ambient air quality standards," Dalrymple said. "Utilities in North Dakota also are committed to an effective clean air plan, investing more than $2 billion to further protect the environment."
Installing the more expensive pollution controls would cost the two plants hundreds of millions more dollars, according to Stenehjem.
Dave Glatt, director of the state Health Department's environmental health section, said the state has been thorough in its work on the matter.
"It's time for EPA to close the book on this issue," he said.