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N.D., EPA to settle haze dispute

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news Jamestown, 58401
Jamestown North Dakota 121 3rd St NW 58401

FARGO -- Environmental health officials in North Dakota and the Environmental Protection Agency will try to end in less than two months a longstanding feud over haze reduction.

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The crux of the disagreement is which technology to control emissions is the most effective and least costly way to reduce haze from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants in North Dakota.

State and federal officials hope to reach an agreement by early March, state health officials and utility representatives said Wednesday.

If successful, an agreement would end a scientific and regulatory battle between state and federal officials that has dragged on for four years.

The North Dakota Department of Health, along with utility companies and cooperatives, maintain that emissions controls favored by the EPA would cost $1 billion more than the state's plan and would provide little or no added benefit.

"It's for no perceptible environmental benefit," said Robert "Mac" McLennan, president and chief executive officer of Minnkota Power Cooperative, a wholesale electricity co-op based in Grand Forks.

"Truly, today we don't know if it works," McLennan said of the haze emissions technology the EPA wants to implement in North Dakota. "Our coal is different. Our boiler configuration is different."

If the EPA plan is ultimately imposed, those haze reduction costs would be passed on to consumers and would result in the form of higher rates.

For customers of the Cass County Electric Cooperative, the increase would be 20 to 25 percent, Scott Handy, the co-op's president and CEO, said Wednesday.

Terry O'Clair, who heads air quality for the North Dakota Health Department, said the technology the state favors is effective and less expensive. Vendors for the technology favored by the EPA are unwilling to certify its effectiveness with North Dakota lignite coal, he said.

The state's haze reduction plan would reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide by 106,000 tons per year, and reduce nitrous oxide by 26,000 tons per year, O'Clair said.

"I don't want people getting the impression the state's not doing anything," he said.

The EPA's plan, for an additional $1 billion, would produce a negligible difference in haze reduction, O'Clair added. "You won't be able to see the difference at Theodore Roosevelt National Park," he said.

Top EPA officials met recently with the congressional delegations of North Dakota and Minnesota and pledged to try to resolve the dispute. Originally, the goal for an agreement was late January, but that's been extended to early March.

"There's been no meeting of the minds," O'Clair said.

If an agreement isn't reached, the dispute could end up in court, McLennan said in a meeting with The Forum editorial board.

Patrick Springer is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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