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North Dakota on target to meet haze reduction goals

North Dakota is half-way toward its goal of eliminating human-caused sources of haze by 2064. Additional controls wouldn't make a perceptible difference or justify the cost, officials said.

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The Coal Creek Station coal plant near the Falkirk mine outside of Underwood, N.D., is the largest power plant in North Dakota
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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BISMARCK — North Dakota’s plan to meet its obligations to reduce haze doesn’t include any new emissions controls for the state’s fleet of coal-burning power plants over the next few years.

The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality’s latest haze reduction plan is based on findings that additional controls would be costly but provide little or no improved visibility in the state’s protected areas, which include both units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge near Kenmare.

The plan, the latest in ongoing efforts to eliminate human-caused sources of haze by 2064, was submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency and extends through 2028.

“The data shows at this point changes wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference,” said Dave Glatt, director of the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality. “We got the data back and it wouldn’t move the needle significantly.”

The findings come from monitoring by the state and computer modeling by the Western Regional Air Partnership, a voluntary partnership of states, tribes, federal land managers, local governments and the EPA.

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The EPA-driven initiative to reduce human-caused sources of haze started in 2004, and North Dakota submitted its first haze reduction plan in 2010. Since then, utilities have installed $2 billion of emission control equipment, Glatt said.

To date, North Dakota has made significant progress, much of it attributed to the pollution controls installed in coal-burning power plants, which the state said have decreased sulfur dioxide about 102,000 tons, or 72%, and nitrogen oxides by about 41,600 tons, or 55%.

Now about a third of the way toward the goal of eliminating human-caused sources of haze by 2064, North Dakota has reduced haze by half, Glatt said.

“We’re already at 50% of our goal, which is pretty good,” he said.

Modeling indicates that at least 40% of human-caused sources of haze in North Dakota’s protected areas projected for 2028 come from outside the United States. Canadian human-caused impairment, including emissions from coal-fired power plants as well as oil and gas development, account for 66% of international impairment at Longwood and 50% at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, according to the state’s analysis.

When natural sources of haze are included, 70% of the impact on air quality impairment originates outside North Dakota, a figure that doesn’t include the worst impairment days, often caused by smoke drifting from western wildfires, he said.

“We have a very small piece of it,” Glatt said.

The National Park Service, which was invited to comment on the state’s draft haze reduction plan, urged North Dakota environmental regulators to require additional controls and said the state is a major air polluter.

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“Of all states North Dakota has the biggest influence over haze” on National Park Service protected areas, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park, according to a park service analysis, air quality specialist David Pohlman said in comments for the National Park Service.

“Emissions from North Dakota … are significant across the region and especially contribute to regional haze at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota as well as Badlands and Wind Cave National Parks in South Dakota,” Pohlman said.

The National Park Service contended the North Dakota regulators “generally inflated costs associated with controls” and did not consider options the park service considered viable, including steps to reduce emissions from the oil and gas industry.

The National Park Service’s analysis was based on a screening calculation the state used to identify potential sources of concern, but is too crude to give an accurate picture of haze-causing emissions, Glatt said.

After reviewing the comments from the park service, “We didn’t come across anything in the amounts they gave us that indicated we weren’t following the letter of the law,” said David Stroh, an environmental engineer for the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality.

North Dakota is projected to remain on track in meeting its haze reduction goals through 2028, the period now under consideration, Glatt said. The park service would like to see the state make more rapid progress, but that isn’t what’s required by law, he said.

The record shows North Dakota “will go to the mat” to enforce haze reduction and air quality standards, as indicated by the $2 billion in controls it previously ordered, Glatt said. Additional controls, he said, might be required in the future.

The park service’s assertion that North Dakota is one of the worst air polluters is not fair, he said. “Their statement wasn’t based off of real information, measured and monitored,” Glatt said.

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North Dakota’s updated haze reduction plan also included a revised “best available reduction technology” retrofit solution to reduce nitrogen oxide emission from the 1,151-megawatt Coal Creek Station near Underwood, North Dakota’s largest coal-burning power plant.

The station has installed burner upgrades at a cost of several million dollars that produce less nitrogen, Glatt said. “They’ve already installed those controls,” he said.

EPA officials now will review North Dakota’s proposal, spelled out in 3,200 pages, with appendices, a process that likely will take a year, perhaps more, Glatt said.

North Dakota will have to submit a progress report to the EPA in 2025, then will start planning for the next phase of haze reduction.

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
Phone: 701-367-5294
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