Keeping the lights on with North Dakota coal
By Annette Tait
Every available seat was taken in the main meeting room of the Beulah Civic Center and in the second large room as well, with late-comers standing four and five deep around the rooms’ edges and overflowing into the crowded hallways. Many wore t-shirts, hoodies, or other items of apparel that stated their support of mining and coal-fired power generation, or affiliation to a coal-related company or union.
As was oft-repeated during the course of the meeting, coal is a way of life in North Dakota. Homes are heated with it, electricity is generated by it, and the industry drives both employment and the tax base that supports many North Dakota cities and towns.
This is especially true in Oliver County, where Minnkota Power operates the Milton R. Young Station, and BNI Coal has an extensive mining operation that fuels the Young power plant. Both were referenced in a model plan developed by the Environmental Protection Agency that suggested closing one unit of Young Station – along with Heskett Station north of Mandan, Coyote Creek Station near Beulah, and one unit of Coal Creek Station near Underwood by 2018 as a means to reach reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions levels as required by the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan.
The published plan quadrupled the original 11 percent decrease in CO2 emissions in the EPA’s proposed plan, calling instead for a 45 percent decrease for the state. Already, the plan has drawn legal action from a number of states, including a petition filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals by the North Dakota Attorney General, Wayne Stenehjem. The petition challenges that the final rule exceeds the EPA’s authority and is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with the law.”
In the mean time, the North Dakota Department of Health is charged with developing a plan that will bring the state into compliance, with efforts to begin no later than 2018, unless the state is granted an extension. NDDoH Environmental Health Section Chief L. David Glatt cautioned that, while it is expected North Dakota will be able to obtain an extension to complete the state improvement plan, or SIP, reaching the outcome of legal action will most likely be a “too little, too late” situation. States will have to take action to avoid being in violation of the rule and drawing sanctions.