OUR OPINION: Too much cost, too little impact on N.D. haze

Go to the "State of the Air" website, Find the map of the United States. Click on North Dakota. You'll see the American Lung Association's grades for air quality in the state. The association graded the air in eight counties, a...

Go to the "State of the Air" website, Find the map of the United States. Click on North Dakota.

You'll see the American Lung Association's grades for air quality in the state. The association graded the air in eight counties, and the grades are as follows:

_ Billings: A.

_ Burke: A.

_ Burleigh: A.


_ Cass: A

_ Dunn: A.

_ McKenzie: A.

_ Mercer: A

_ Oliver: A.

Those results set North Dakota apart. For example, of Minnesota's 14 counties that got graded, only six earned A's. Five got B's, three got C's.

And not even Wyoming can compare. Wyoming's six graded counties wound up with two A's, two B's and one C. And one F.

In short, North Dakota's straight-A report card is a standout result.


Is it worth forcing the state's utilities to spend close to a billion dollars to secure an A-plus?

Clearly, the answer is no -- so clearly that North Dakota's governor, attorney general, entire congressional delegation and even a Democratic candidate for U.S. House agree:

The Environmental Protection Agency should back off on its demand that the utilities spend mightily to scrub North Dakota's already-clean air.

The North Dakota Health Department administers federal clean-air programs, including the standards for visibility or "regional haze." But the EPA wants to overrule the department's plan and require a more expensive fix.

There are two problems: cost and effectiveness. Statewide, the EPA plan "could cost power plants more than $700 million for various technologies required to meet EPA standards," wrote Mac McLennan, Minnkota Power president, in a recent Herald op-ed.

"Minnkota could see a 30 to 35 percent cost increase. This could translate into a 20 to 30 percent retail rate increase by member cooperatives and municipals."

If the technology would bring about a dramatic increase in visibility in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and other pristine areas, that would be one thing. But it wouldn't. "The resulting difference (in haze) is nothing you can determine," testified Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., at a hearing Thursday in Bismarck.

"You can't see it. You can't tell the difference."


Except, that is, in the weight of your wallet, which would be noticeably lighter if the EPA's rules go through.

Eventually, environmental regulations reach a point of diminishing returns. That's the point at which "continuing effort toward a particular goal declines in effectiveness," as one Web definition puts it. It's the point at which you need an expensive ladder or even a boom truck because you've already picked the low-hanging fruit.

And it's the point the "regional haze" effort is at today.

Furthermore, for the EPA to press its case in the face of not only North Dakota's entire political and business establishment but also the ready evidence of the state's clean air hurts more than the agency's prospects of winning. It also hurts the EPA's reputation both statewide and nationwide. Americans strongly support the cause of a cleaner environment and don't mind letting the EPA take the lead. But they also want rules that deliver solid protection for the money, not massive spending in return for only marginal gains.

That's especially true given the stagnant national economy, in which people tend to lean toward less -- not more -- regulation..

Here's another item from the American Lung Association's "State of the Air" 2011 report. Page 21 of the report lists America's "Top 25 Cleanest Counties for Year-round Particle Pollution." Coming in as the county with the fifth-cleanest air in that category is Billings County, N.D.

Billings County is home to the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, one of the areas the EPA rules are meant to protect.

"EPA?s proposal to overturn the state plan with a federal plan is unwarranted," Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., testified Thursday.


"The state of North Dakota has met all of its Clean Air Act responsibilities in developing its plan to reduce haze in our region." In short, the EPA should stop insisting that utilities spend more millions to solve a nearly invisible visibility problem.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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