Haze obscures the issue
The dispute over haze rules between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the North Dakota Health Department often gets wrongly boiled down to a conflict between a green, pro-environmental policy by the federal agency and a pro-industry, dirty coal gambit by the state. Such steamrolling of the dispute fails the test of fairness and truthfulness.
It is really a difference of scientific opinion -- both sides desire the same basic end result: clean air and a healthy environment.
The questions are what technology will work and at what cost.
Clean air standards are set by the EPA and implemented by the state Health Department, or such has been the long-held relationship between the state and federal government on environmental issues. The Milton R. Young and Leland Olds lignite coal-fired power plants at Center and Stanton, respectively, would install scrubbers using a technology approved by the state. The EPA would prefer a different technology, one costing hundreds of millions of dollars more.
The EPA believes its preferred technology would remove more of the nitrous oxide emissions from the power plant. The Health Department counters that the EPA technology is untested on lignite coal, which has a different makeup than other coals. The state-preferred technology would not reduce emissions as far at the EPA-preferred technology, if the EPA technology does work. Even so, the state-preferred technology would meet the EPA's standards.
Both technologies would reduce potentially harmful emissions -- the difference is a potential matter of degrees.
Restated: At issue is the technology used, its effectiveness and the cost.
U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland ruled recently that North Dakota's findings related to pollution-control technology were "not unreasonable." Further, Hovland set out that the burden of proof in the dispute lies with the EPA and not the state.
The ruling enforces the state's authority over state and federal air quality law. It supports the proposition that the EPA sets standards and the state implements them.
There's no doubt that the state Health Department has worked with the lignite industry to reach its findings on effective pollution control; however, there's no evidence that the relationship has been inappropriate or that the science and data used to make decisions might be suspect. As far as haze is a health issue, in addition to being an aesthetic issue, the Health Department has acted responsibly and that action should be shown respect by the federal agency.
The EPA must now respond to Hovland's ruling. The state and federal government would both be well served by following the state's lead on reducing haze.