North Dakota

Joint Statement Regarding North Dakota PSC Dismissal of Case Against Meridian Energy Group

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Sarah Eddy, 312-795-3710

Scott Skokos, 701-224-8587

Joint Statement Regarding PSC Dismissal of Case Against Meridian Energy Group

Bismarck, ND—In a decision today, the North Dakota Public Service Commission (PSC) dismissed the complaint of the Dakota Resource Council and the Environmental Law and Policy Center against Meridian Energy Group, jeopardizing the PSC’s regulatory jurisdiction in the process.

This decision ignores the clear statutory and constitutional mandate for the PSC to act as an independent regulator of North Dakota’s utilities. The PSC’s siting laws are the bedrock of sensible utility siting in North Dakota, including not just for oil refineries, but also for wind, solar, electric transmission, power plants, and pipelines.

Rather than considering the case on its merits, the PSC today chose to dismiss this case without even granting a hearing, concluding that the PSC lacks any authority whatsoever to determine through formal proceedings whether Meridian needs a siting permit to construct a major oil refinery. The PSC chose to rely on an affidavit of Meridian’s CEO to conclude that the company does not need a permit. In other words, the PSC has taken the position that if a company states that it does not need a permit, then the PSC will trust the company at its word. The PSC’s decision ignores its duty as an independent utility regulator and the rights of North Dakotans to seek formal determinations from the PSC. This is a pivotal decision that could broadly affect the PSC’s ability to regulate everything from electric rates, to coal mines, to wind siting, and oil refinery siting, and it should concern all North Dakotans.

The Dakota Resource Council and Environmental Law and Policy Center are conferring with their legal counsel and reviewing next steps, including a review of this decision in district court.

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Energywire: BLM’s Final Methane Rule Reveal Draws Swift Legal Action

BLM’s Final Methane Rule Reveal Draws Swift Legal Action

by Pamela King

The states of California and New Mexico yesterday opened a new courtroom battle over Obama-era methane standards, hours after the Interior Department closed the book on its long effort to scale back the rule.

Bureau of Land Management officials yesterday revealed the language of its revisions to the 2016 Methane and Waste Prevention Rule.

“Sadly, the flawed 2016 rule was a radical assertion of legal authority that stood in stark contrast to the long-standing understanding of Interior’s own lawyers,” said Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt. “The Trump administration is committed to innovative regulatory improvement and environmental stewardship, while appropriately respecting the clear and distinct authorities of the states, tribes, as well as the direction we receive from Congress.”

The New Mexico and California attorneys general promptly sued Interior.

“With this attempt to axe the Waste Prevention Rule, the Trump administration risks the air our children breathe and at taxpayers’ expense,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “We’ve sued the administration before over the illegal delay and suspension of this rule and will continue doing everything in our power to hold them accountable to our people and planet.”

In their lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the states contend that BLM under President Trump has violated multiple statutes in its unrelenting efforts to wipe the rule from the books.

The revised rule is a “shocking abdication” of the department’s responsibilities, said David Hayes, former Interior deputy secretary in the Clinton and Obama administrations.

“The final rule fails to forthrightly address the environmental and fiscal significance of the issue to federal and state authorities, the relatively minor costs of compliance, and the major climate- and health-related environmental benefits associated with commonsense restrictions on venting and flaring activities,” said Hayes, who now serves as executive director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law.

BLM yesterday found that its revision would result in maximum total net benefits of roughly $1.08 billion over a decade. That benefit is rooted in reduced compliance costs for oil and gas operators.

“As environmental stewards and businessmen and women who live in the communities where they work, IPAA member companies strive to explore for and produce as much American oil and natural gas as possible, while always being mindful of the need to protect public lands and the environment,” said Barry Russell, president and CEO of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. “The Trump administration’s rule recognizes this fact and acknowledges the cost burden placed on companies that work and explore on federal lands.”

The cost-benefit analysis for the revision rule applies a sharp discount on the social cost of emitting methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

“The administration is turning its back on commonsense methane reduction standards that reduce wasteful energy flaring and protect the public from harmful smog-forming pollution,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The current standards call for the use of known technologies and good industry practices to reduce wasteful methane leaks. The new rule would allow more flaring of methane gas — a valuable natural resource.”

Allowing companies to release more natural gas into the atmosphere instead of capturing it for sale will result in at least $28.3 million in forgone royalty payments to taxpayers, BLM estimated.

“Today’s final methane rule makes it painfully obvious that this administration is placing industry interests ahead of federal taxpayers,” Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said in a statement yesterday. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke “has chosen to dismiss the problem of leaked, vented or flared gas from drilling operations on federal lands, costing taxpayers millions in lost revenue.”

Industry groups applauded the changes.

“We are relieved that BLM’s final rule has been released and that it actually addresses waste prevention,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance. “The late 2016 Obama administration rule was all about regulating air quality, which is the job of EPA and the states under the Clean Air Act, not BLM, which has no air quality expertise or authority. The new regulation restores the rule of law while reducing waste of natural gas, which was supposed to be the intent of the original rule in the first place.”

BLM’s rule follows EPA’s efforts last week to relax its New Source Performance Standards for new and modified oil and gas sources (see related story).

Royal Dutch Shell PLC followed EPA’s announcement with a move to reduce methane leaks from its oil and gas operations (Energywire, Sept. 18).

Instead of viewing industry’s efforts as a reason to cut back regulations, government officials should see those actions as indicators of industry’s appetite to address their climate contributions, environmental groups said. Consistent federal regulations would require smaller operators to follow larger firms’ lead, they said.

“When even the world’s largest oil companies recognize the need for methane safeguards, reasonable people cannot pretend that the Trump administration is rolling them back in the public’s interest they purport to serve,” said Earthworks policy director Lauren Pagel.

Capitol Hill

BLM’s announcement yesterday drew mixed reaction from Capitol Hill lawmakers.

Republicans in Congress last year pushed to unwind the Obama regulation under the Congressional Review Act, which requires a simple majority in the House and the Senate to support a resolution to disapprove a rule.

Although the House and Senate were under GOP control, the proposal fell short of the support it needed in the upper chamber (Greenwire, May 10, 2017).

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) called on Interior to follow Congress’ lead.

“Even though Congress has already rejected an attack on the Obama-era methane rule, Secretary Zinke has ignored congressional intent and moved forward with this ill-advised scheme anyway,” she said. “If this new rule is implemented, companies will be able to waste millions of dollars in taxpayer resources by releasing 180,000 tons of methane pollution per year into our air.”

House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said he was glad to see Interior find its own way to scrap the rule.

“Today’s announcement fulfills the promise made by the Trump administration to remove regulatory hurdles on domestic energy production,” he said in a statement yesterday. “The previous rule was founded on questionable legal theory and resulted in unnecessary costs.”

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said the revision rule ignores the years of public input that went into the creation of the original rule.

“The methane rule was established with wide support after years of open dialogue and stakeholder involvement. And the evidence is clear: This rule has had no negative effect on job creation or on the booming U.S. oil and gas production on federal lands,” he said. “That’s why the methane rule was upheld by a bipartisan vote in the United States Senate — despite heavy lobbying from some in the oil and gas industry.”

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) this year led a request that Interior officials hold public meetings on the BLM rule changes, as they did in the lead-up to the Obama regulation (Energywire, April 18, 2017).

“I’m disappointed to learn that BLM did not listen to the people of our state and went ahead with this rollback even after the Senate rejected it,” Bennet said yesterday. “Today’s decision only has downsides for the people of Colorado. It will lead to more pollution, waste more natural gas and decrease revenue for taxpayers.

“Worst of all, it will put the health of our communities at risk.”

READ MORE

BLM’s Misguided Rule Weakens Methane Flaring Reduction Standards that Avoid Waste and Protect Public Health and Our Environment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Judith Nemes

Bureau of Land Management’s Misguided Rule Weakens Methane Flaring Reduction Standards that Avoid Waste and Protect Public Health and Our Environment  

Statement by Howard A. Learner

In response to the Trump Administration’s rollback of the existing Methane Waste Reduction Standards avoid waste from oil and gas drilling on public and tribal lands in North Dakota and across the country, Environmental Law & Policy Center Executive Director Howard Learner said:

“The Administration is turning its back on common sense methane reduction standards that reduce wasteful energy flaring and protect the public from harmful smog-forming pollution. The current standards call for the use of known technologies and good industry practices to reduce wasteful methane leaks. The new rule would allow more flaring of methane gas—a valuable natural resource. Flaring harms human health, wastes energy resources and costs Americans $1 billion in wasted energy and pollution.

“In North Dakota this rollback will mean more wasted natural gas, less money for impacted communities, and more air pollution from oil and gas drilling on public lands.

“The Bureau of Land Management is ignoring the strong support from more than half a million Americans who favored the existing Methane Waste Reduction Standards and oppose its repeal. The Trump Administration apparently doesn’t care enough about wasting energy, protecting public health or collecting fair revenues from the oil and gas industry drilling on our public lands,” Learner said.

Click Here to read the full rule. 

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The Prairie Blog: Conservation Groups to Refinery: “Cease and Desist!”

September 4, 2018

Conservation Groups to Refinery: “Cease and Desist!” 
By Jim Fuglie

Lest we let the threat of an oil refinery beside Theodore Roosevelt National Park slip from our minds as we go about our busy fall lives, here’s an update on where things stand right now.

Meridian Energy has started dirt work at the site beside I-94 on the road into the park, flouting the attempt by conservation groups to require a site compatibility review by the North Dakota Public Service Commission.

So last Friday, the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) and the Dakota Resource Council (DRC) filed a request to the PSC to “issue a cease and desist order requiring Meridian to halt all construction activities for the Davis Refinery to preserve the PSC’s jurisdiction over whether Meridian is required to obtain a certificate of site compatibility for the Davis Refinery.”

That’s the latest volley in the ongoing paperwork battle over whether the state’s PSC should step in and conduct a full site review to see if the proposed location for the refinery is a good one. Public Service Commissioners Randy Christmann, Julie Fedorchak and Brian Kroshus have seemed a bit skeptical of the location, and are weighing whether to step in and order such a review.

At issue, though, is what the conservation groups are calling “bait and switch” tactics by the refinery company, changing its story on the refinery’s capacity to come in just under the 50,000 barrels per day limit which would subject them to regulatory review by the PSC.

READ FULL ARTICLE

Bismarck Tribune: Construction Begins on Davis Refinery Site

Construction Begins on Davis Refinery Site
By Mike McCleary

Meridian Energy Group announced Tuesday it is starting site construction for the Davis Refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a project that still faces legal challenges.

A Meridian spokesman said civil construction and site work began Monday at the site near Belfield.

Initial construction activities will include installing erosion control devices, stormwater pond development and other site grading.

Meanwhile, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Dakota Resource Council and the Environmental Law & Policy Center are challenging the health department permit in a lawsuit filed last week. The groups argue that Meridian underestimates what the refinery’s emissions will be and claim the health department’s monitoring and testing requirements are inadequate to ensure compliance with the permit.

READ FULL STORY

Bismarck Tribune: Appeal Challenges Davis Refinery Air Quality Permit

Appeal Challenges Davis Refinery Air Quality Permit
By Amy Dalrymple

The National Parks Conservation Association and two other groups filed an appeal Thursday challenging an air quality permit for an oil refinery proposed near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The appeal filed in Southwest Judicial District Court challenges the North Dakota Department of Health’s finding that the Davis Refinery would be classified as a synthetic minor source of air pollution.

The complaint argues the refinery being developed by Meridian Energy near Belfield should be classified as a major source of air pollution, which would require a more rigorous regulatory review.

Stephanie Kodish, clean air program director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the Davis Refinery lacks necessary safeguards to minimize pollution and protect the air quality in the national park, which is 3 miles away.

“National Parks Conservation Association refuses to stand by and allow Meridian Energy Group to pollute the air within and surrounding Theodore Roosevelt National Park with its proposed oil refinery,” Kodish said in a statement.

The Dakota Resource Council and the Environmental Law & Policy Center joined the NPCA in filing the appeal, which seeks a court to reverse the health department’s decision and send it back to the agency for further review.

The appeal argues that Meridian Energy underestimates what the emissions will be and claims the health department’s monitoring and testing requirements are inadequate to ensure compliance with the permit.

READ MORE

 

PRESS RELEASE: Defending the Air at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Defending the Air at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Dakota Resource Council, Environmental Law & Policy Center and National Parks Conservation Association Sue State of North Dakota Over Proposed Oil Refinery

Medora, ND – National Parks Conservation Association, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and the Dakota Resource Council filed a lawsuit against the State of North Dakota today, in response to the state’s issuance of an air permit for a proposed oil refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The lawsuit, filed by ELPC and Braaten Law Firm, is in response to North Dakota Department of Health’s (NDDoH) approval of an air permit for Meridian Energy Group’s proposed Davis Refinery, which would be the first industrial-sized refinery built in more than 40 years. The plaintiffs oppose the state’s classification of the industrial refinery as a “minor” source of pollution rather than as a “major” source. The permit granted by North Dakota does not provide needed assurances that Meridian Energy will keep pollution to required levels.

“National Parks Conservation Association refuses to stand by and allow Meridian Energy Group to pollute the air within and surrounding Theodore Roosevelt National Park with its proposed oil refinery,” said Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air Program Director for National Parks Conservation Association. “The refinery would produce tens of thousands of barrels of oil each day and lacks necessary safeguards to minimize pollution. We must protect the air quality in the national park, which visitors and surrounding community members breathe, and on which the stunning views and fragile ecosystems depend. This polluting oil refinery betrays the conservation values of the park’s namesake.”

“We have to get this right. Oil refineries can be enormous polluters, and we are not confident this permit will keep air pollution levels low enough to keep the air clean in the Park and the surrounding area,” said Scott Strand, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The Department of Health is just taking the company’s promises as verifiable facts, and we believe that does not comply with the requirements of the law.”

“The thought of an oil refinery near your home and near a National Park is not pleasant,” said Dakota Resource Council Member Laura Grzanic. “Relying on the in-house research of an unknown company, formed to construct and operate a permanent industrial facility, is frightening. The NDDH will not test for certain hazardous pollutants such as benzene. This lack of testing puts the health and well-being of those of us who live near the proposed site or visit our National Park at risk. The NDDH should reexamine whether or not the emission numbers submitted by Meridian are realistic and also add measures to be certain that the proposed refinery is in compliance with the permit. The dangers from pollutants emitted from this refinery are not hypothetical to those of us living, working, and playing near the refinery.”

Theodore Roosevelt National Park stands as a testament to America’s conservation legacy and the very president who helped shape it. The park welcomed more than 700,000 visitors in 2017 who spent over $47 million in nearby communities, supporting over 550 local jobs.

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Bismarck Tribune: ELPC & DRC Complaint Seeks to Halt Construction of Davis Refinery

June 29, 2018
Complaint Seeks to Halt Construction of Davis Refinery
By Amy Dalrymple

Two groups filed a complaint Friday with North Dakota utility regulators that seeks to stop construction of an oil refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park until the project receives a more thorough review.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Dakota Resource Council allege that Meridian Energy is attempting to circumvent state law by not applying for a permit with the Public Service Commission.

The complaint argues that Meridian is attempting to build the Davis Refinery in stages to avoid the scrutiny of the Public Service Commission, which requires siting permits for refineries that process 50,000 barrels per day.

Meridian has, at times, described the project as expanding to process 55,000 barrels per day in statements to investors, in news releases and on state and local permit applications. Later, the company website was amended to 49,500 barrels, just under the threshold.

The inconsistencies prompted commissioners to invite Meridian officials for an informal discussion in December. At the time, Meridian CEO William Prentice said the company plans to build a refinery with a capacity of 27,500 barrels per day with the possibility of expanding in the future.

The North Dakota Department of Health recently issued an air quality permit for the Davis Refinery that stated a capacity of 55,000 barrels per day.

The complaint argues that the Public Service Commission is the only agency that can give a holistic review of the refinery, such as impacts to cultural, historical and recreational resources, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and whether the site is suitable for a refinery.

The complaint seeks a cease-and-desist order from the Public Service Commission to prevent Meridian from constructing the refinery until it obtains a certificate of site compatibility.

READ FULL STORY

PRESS RELEASE: Air Permit Issued for Proposed Refinery Near Theodore Roosevelt National Park

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Air Permit Issued for Proposed Refinery Near Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Medora, ND – The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) today announced it has issued a permit allowing construction of Meridian Energy Group’s proposed Davis Refinery to move forward, risking harm to nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park. More than 10,000 people wrote to the agency about the refinery, the majority raising concerns against the proposal. National Parks Conservation Association, the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Dakota Resource Council called the health department’s action a failure to protect Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

“We are deeply concerned about the impact of air pollution from the proposed refinery on Theodore Roosevelt National Park,” said Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air Program Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “The park’s air quality is already hurt by pollution, limiting views, damaging ecosystems and making the air less healthy for visitors to breathe. The question is not whether this new source of pollution will do additional harm to the park – but rather how much.”

The Permit to Construct classifies the industrial refinery as a “minor” rather than “major” source of pollution, allowing it to bypass requirements to evaluate and use the best emission control technologies.

“The Clean Air Act has strict requirements for large new sources of pollution,” said Scott Strand, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The law requires the states to make sure that facilities with significant potential to pollute our air will have the best available pollution control technology in place.  Unfortunately, the state appears to be willing to let Meridian get by with its bland assurances that its emission controls will be good enough to meet the law’s requirements.”

The permit comes amid controversy over Meridian’s refusal to undergo siting review with the state’s Public Service Commission, which is required for refineries over 50,000 barrels per day. The NDDoH permit sanctions up to 55,000 barrels per day at the refinery.

The failure of the NDDoH to hold Meridian accountable for the company’s stated goal of 55,000 bpd means the North Dakota Public Service Commission’s responsibilities become even more critical. Local members of Badlands Area Resource Council (BARC), an affiliate of the Dakota Resource Council, are now asking the PSC to protect their land, water, air and quality of life by requiring Meridian to apply for a siting permit. Most BARC members live close to the proposed site. Linda Weiss, Chair of BARC said, “The placement of this refinery next to a Class I Air shed not only destroys the air quality today but will continue to destroy air quality for years to come. The cumulative air pollution from the many facilities in the industrial area will jeopardize health and safety of people who live here.”

The groups are carefully evaluating the permit to determine their next steps.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park stands as a testament to America’s conservation legacy and the very president who helped shape it. The park welcomed more than 700,000 visitors in 2017 who spent over $47 million in nearby communities, supporting over 550 local jobs.

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President Trump’s BLM Gutting Methane Standards Move is Wasteful, Misguided, and Unpopular

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: David Jakubiak

President Trump’s Bureau of Land Management Gutting Methane Standards Move is Wasteful, Misguided, and Unpopular

Statement by Howard A. Learner

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

“President Trump’s Bureau of Land Management is gutting the standards designed to reduce wasteful flaring of methane. That misguided action hurts people, wastes a resource and adds pollution. In a poll last year, 60% of North Dakota Republicans and 59% of independents supported strong standards to reduce flaring in federal and tribal lands. That’s common sense. An estimated $76 million in natural gas is flared annually on North Dakota’s public and tribal lands. Instead of wasting that resource, we should be advancing use of innovative technologies to reduce waste, keeping jobs and money in the state.”

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