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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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MPR News: Line 3 Still has Regulatory Ground to Plow Before Bringing in Bulldozers

July 10, 2018

Line 3 Still has Regulatory Ground to Plow Before Bringing in Bulldozers

By Elizabeth Dunbar

Before Enbridge Energy can bring in the bulldozers and backhoes to build its Line 3 pipeline across northern Minnesota, it still has to go through more months of regulatory scrutiny.

The project took a big step forward late last month when it won approval from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission after nearly four years of review — but it was by no means the last hurdle the controversial project faces. Gov. Mark Dayton’s office has tallied 29 more approvals needed before construction can start.

And even if Enbridge gets all of those permits approved by state agencies, county governments and federal regulators, there’s still the likelihood that one or more decisions will be challenged in court.

“Patience is a virtue in advocacy for large-scale infrastructure projects and large-scale natural resource development projects,” said Nancy Norr of Jobs for Minnesotans, a group that supports Line 3.

The company expects the bulk of the permits will be in hand by Nov. 1, according to Guy Jarvis, executive vice president for pipelines and projects at Enbridge.

“Once you have all that, it’s still several months of mobilization before you’re actually out doing significant construction,” he said, predicting that construction could start in early 2019.

The first thing on Enbridge’s to-do list is filling in the details on an agreement with the PUC to adhere to certain conditions. That includes a plan for paying for cleanup, should the new pipeline spill, and offering jobs to Native American contractors. Those details are due next week, and project opponents say they’ll be heavily scrutinized.

“We still have a long way to go at the PUC,” said Scott Strand, the attorney representing Friends of the Headwaters. He says once the conditions are clarified, groups opposing Line 3 can ask for reconsideration, and can also ask the Minnesota Court of Appeals to review the decision.

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Chicago Tribune: Environmentalists Appeal Ruling on Illiana Toll Road

June 13. 2018
Environmentalists Appeal Ruling on Illiana Toll Road
By Susan DeMar Lafferty

Environmental groups filed a petition to ask the Illinois Appellate Court to reconsider its recent ruling against them regarding the proposed Illiana toll road.

According to the appeal this week, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Illinois Department of Transportation failed to comply with the language of the Illinois Regional Planning Act, which states that the CMAP Board “shall” provide its “prior” “approval” of a transportation project before final approval by the MPO.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, who is representing Openlands and the Sierra Club, cited several other court cases to support their claim that the word “shall” is mandatory, not discretionary, as the court ruled.

The Illiana, a proposed 47-mile toll road connecting I-55 in Wilmington to I-65 near Lowell, Indiana, has been a controversial road project that was shelved by Gov. Bruce Rauner when he took office in January, 2015.

Environmentalists have opposed the toll road project, saying it would harm the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie since the proposed route skirted its southern border, and calling it a “financial boondoggle” for the state.

In 2013 and 2014, IDOT sought to amend the “GO TO 2040” long range transportation plan to include the Illiana Tollway project and it had been debated by both CMAP and MPO at that time, with CMAP twice opposed to including the amendment in its 2040 plan and MPO supporting it.

Environmentalists filed the initial lawsuit in 2014, challenging the approval process for including the Illiana in the “GO TO 2040” plan.

According to the recent court petition, federal law requires that transportation projects must be approved by the MPO before they become eligible for federal funding.

CMAP was created by the Illinois General Assembly in the Illinois Regional Planning Act to ensure that transportation planning for the Chicago area is carried out in conjunction with comprehensive planning for land use, economic development, environmental sustainability and quality-of-life issues, the petition stated.

The act specifically states that the CMAP board “shall” first provide its “prior” “approval” of transportation projects and plans before the final approval by the MPO Policy Committee, according to the court document.

In the petition for a rehearing, Learner cited several cases in which the court ruled that “shall” means mandatory, not discretionary.

The Illinois Supreme Court is now hearing Oswald verse Beard, and that case should also define the meaning of “shall,” according to Learner.

“The Illinois General Assembly clearly intended to create a nondiscretionary, mandatory duty” when it wrote the Regional Planning Act, the petition stated.

On the other hand, the word “may” is used numerous times throughout the act, making the contrast “clear and easily discerned,” the document stated.

The appellate court “misconstrued the relationship” between CMAP Board and MPO and the nature of the GO TO 2040 Plan and the Illiana Tollway, it said.

“The entire purpose of GO TO 2040 as a regional comprehensive plan would be negated” if the MPO were able to push through projects “inconsistent with the other planning purposes of GO TO 2040,” the court document stated.

In the petition, Learner asked for a rehearing, or as an alternative, hold this request for a rehearing until after the state supreme court issues a ruling in Oswald verse Beard.

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PRESS RELEASE: Dane County Board of Supervisors Rejects High Power Transmission Line

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
David Clutter, Driftless Area Land Conservancy
608-930-3252

Judith Nemes, ELPC
312-795-3706/JNemes@elpc.org

Dane County Board of Supervisors Rejects High Power Transmission Line 

MADISON, WI. –  Dane County Board of Supervisors voted to oppose ATC’s Cardinal-Hickory Creek high-voltage transmission line and tall towers. The transmission line would carve a wide path from Middleton, Wisc., to Dubuque, Iowa, across conservancy land, private farms, school district property and many sensitive natural areas in the treasured Driftless Region. The board voted to oppose the transmission line 33-0, with two abstentions.

“This is a major victory in our efforts to oppose this expensive, unnecessary and damaging transmission line,” said David Clutter, Executive Director of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC). “The Dane County Board of Supervisors sent a convincing message that this transmission line should be stopped. The vote helps to assure that beautiful scenic lands, important habitats and farmland in the Driftless Area will be protected.”  

“The Dane County Board recognized that this huge and expensive transmission line is not needed to meet Wisconsin’s power needs,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which serves as legal counsel for DALC. “There are better, cheaper and cleaner energy alternatives for Wisconsin’s future.”

Learner added: “It’s vital to protect the scenic Driftless Area, which is a center of nature and tourism. Hopefully, ATC will reconsider its controversial high-voltage transmission line plan and avoid contentious legal proceedings.”

The Board of Supervisors’ resolution states, in part: “Now is the time to begin increasing reliance on advanced technology, robust regional planning, innovative commercial practices and coordinated local system operations rather than to construct the proposed 345 kV transmission line.

“The Dane County Board of Supervisors calls upon the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, Governor Walker, and the Wisconsin Legislature to oppose the construction and operation of the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line and not grant any permits, certificates or other approvals needed for the proposed transmission line.”

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Michigan Public Radio: ELPC’s Kearney Speaks Out to Protect Saugatuck Dunes

Some Michigan residents are saying no to a potential development along the Kalamazoo River in Saugatuck.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality held a public meeting last night to hear from residents about a proposed development project along dunes on Lake Michigan.

At issue is a plan to build a marina and resort along the Saugatuck Dunes, which are off of Lake Michigan, more specifically off the Kalamazoo River.

John Bayha, an Environmental Engineer with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, says the meeting was to get public comment.

“We have two main permit applications right now under review, and so this hearing was just the opportunity for the public to provide comments that we will take into consideration in our decision making process on these applications,” Bayha said.

Margrethe Kearney, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, says the proposal raises several red flags.

“We think there are a lot of issues related to public safety, related to the public interests, related to protection of endangered species and natural resources,” Kearney said.

Kearney says the proposal also goes against state and local laws.

“There are several Michigan laws built to protect the natural landscape and protect the natural beauty we have here. [Michigan’s] scenery is a big tourist attraction and it doesn’t make sense to do anything that might hurt that,” she said.

Development along the dunes has been the subject of debate for decades in this area, but Bayha says the department’s decision regarding the application will be made sometime next month.

For the full article, please click here

ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner Named to Crain’s “Who’s Who in Chicago Business”

Among the trailblazers profiled in Crain’s Chicago Business’ annual “Who’s Who in Chicago Business” is ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner.

“Who’s Who” comprises a comprehensive directory of 600+ Chicago leaders, offering information about each person’s business and professional endeavors as well as civic engagements. The list is divided by sector, and Learner appears alongside 33 non-profit standouts.

Learner’s profile includes his work with numerous environmental and legal organizations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Law Institute, as well as his service to organizations like Citizens Action of Illinois and the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce. Below is the profile that appears in the September 4th issue of Crain’s Chicago Business.

Howard_250x330dHoward A. Learner

President, Executive Director

Environmental Law & Policy Center, Chicago

Age: 62

Business: Environmental progress, economic development advocacy organization

Professional: Economic Club; Chicago Bar Association; Chicago Council of Lawyers; Environmental Law Institute

Civic: Leadership Fellows Association; Forest Preserves Foundation; Citizens Action of Illinois; Friends of Israel’s Environment; Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers & Commerce

Undergraduate: University of Michigan

Graduate: Harvard University

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: ELPC’s Learner Says Proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line in Driftless isn’t Needed

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wisconsin Power Line Pits Green Interests Against Each Other
June 11, 2017
By Lee Bergquist

A fight that involves dueling environmental constituencies is brewing over plans for a massive transmission line that would run through the Driftless Region of southwestern Wisconsin.
Developers say the estimated $500 million, 125-mile line would help buttress the regional power grid and provide access to lower-priced electricity in Iowa and other states.

But like the clamor that has erupted over construction of oil pipelines, transmission lines also engender strong emotions, with opponents often raising environmental objections.

In this case, Wisconsin’s newest power-line proposal pits a pair of green interests: those who see the project as a blight on the picturesque ridges and valleys of the region and those who say it opens up a new route for renewable wind energy from other states.

The Cardinal-Hickory Creek power line would run from west of Madison to Dubuque County in Iowa, where it would be linked to a growing fleet of wind farms that produce no greenhouse gases.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission, whose members have all been appointed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, must decide whether the line is needed, and, if so, the best corridor to build it.

The developers have not yet selected precise route options, but recently sent letters to potentially affected property owners.

Two electric transmission companies — Pewaukee-based American Transmission Co. and ITC Midwest of Cedar Rapids, Iowa — lead the project. A third partner is Dairyland Power Cooperative of La Crosse.

The companies expect to make a formal application in 2018. If approved, the new line would begin operating in 2023.

The PSC’s decision will center on the need for a transmission line in a state now brimming with power. Regulators also will assess the ecological impact of a system whose towers will rise half the length of a football field and occupy 150 feet of right-of-way.

A comparable project can now be seen on stretches of I-90/94 in northern Dane and Columbia counties and the Lake Delton area of Sauk County, where another transmission line, the Badger Coulee, is under construction. It will run between Madison and La Crosse.

The Cardinal-Hickory Creek line has been included in a group of more than a dozen transmission projects that the Midwest’s grid operator and planning agency, known as the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, says should be built to maintain the reliability of the system and help alleviate traffic jams on the wires.

That means Wisconsin utility customers would pay about 15% of the cost of the line because MISO recommended that it be built for the benefit of the region.

Factors favoring the line, said the leader of a utility watchdog group, are falling electricity prices from wind and mandates in neighboring states for renewable energy that are higher than Wisconsin’s 10%.

On the other hand, electric demand in the state has been flat, said Thomas Content, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, which will analyze the case when it reaches the PSC.

“From our perspective, it’s making sure the need is justified,” Content said.

New transmission lines are going up as the power industry evolves from heavy reliance on coal-fired plants to a more varied mix that includes natural gas, wind, solar and other renewable sources.

Advocates for more renewable power say shifting to wind requires bigger transmission systems to move power around.

Wisconsin received 3.4% of its electricity from wind last year — up from 2.6% in 2015, according to PSC documents.

But the mix of wind is expected to grow.

With more wind turbines in development in Iowa and elsewhere, and the price of wind power falling, “we are seeing a pretty quick transition in the Midwest and a pretty big increase in wind,” said Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin.

“We need a more robust system to take advantage of it.”

But big transmission towers are not what David Clutter and others want to see.

“This isn’t your typical part of the Midwest or Wisconsin,” said Clutter, executive director of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy. “Our concern is that it will permanently change the character of the area.”

The Driftless group and others, including the Nature Conservancy of Wisconsin, have land holdings in the region and want to protect remnants of prairies and other ecological features that escaped the scouring impact of glaciers thousands of years ago.

This spring, the Iowa County Board, the towns of Dodgeville and Wyoming in Iowa County and the Village of Spring Green in Sauk County have all passed resolutions opposing the project and expressed concerns about the effect on tourism and recreation.

One potential route lies near a segment of Highway 18 in Dane and Iowa counties that passes the communities of Mount Horeb, Barneveld and Dodgeville where vistas of cornfields and tall grass prairies with scattered oaks can stretch for miles.

Among the worries: The potential effect on parcels like the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area, which the state Department of Natural Resources has identified as having the highest priority for grassland protection, and the potential scenic harm the line would have on the 40-mile Military Ridge State Trail that runs along the highway.

If the line swings north, there are concerns on how habitat and wildlife would be affected as it cuts through miles of rolling woodlands and oak savannas where there are little or no existing roads or rights-of-way.

Spokeswoman Kaya Freiman of American Transmission Co. said power lines can co-exist with bike trails and sensitive ecosystems. She said the environmental effects will be “thoroughly reviewed” by regulators.

State law also requires that lines be constructed along existing rights-of-way as much as possible, she said.

Opponents are also challenging the line on economic grounds and say the biggest motivation of the transmission companies is receiving the nearly 11% return permitted by regulators on investments to build power lines.

They also note that electric demand has been dropping because of energy conservation and lingering effects of the recession.

On days with peak electric demand, utilities in Wisconsin last year produced 17% more power than was needed, according to PSC figures, and the agency expects it to remain nearly as high in the next five years.

“Very tall towers and transmission lines aren’t needed,” said attorney Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, which has been hired by the Driftless Area Land Conservancy.

“There is already a surplus of generating capacity.”

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