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Dakota Resource Council questions timing on radioactive waste meeting

BISMARCK -- Two environmental watchdog groups want the State Health Department to show when a meeting last month on new radioactive rules for oil and gas waste was scheduled.

The North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition and the Dakota Resource Council have made an open records request to see whether the citizen-based, appointed North Dakota State Health Council was scheduled only five days ahead of time.

Notice of the meeting was published on the Secretary of State’s website Aug. 6, and the groups say state law says groups such as the State Health Council can’t get notice of meetings before the public does.

The council unanimously approved the new rules at an Aug. 11 meeting, setting a first-ever standard to dispose up to 50 picocuries of radioactive waste in special oil and gas waste landfills.

Darrell Dorgan, spokesman for the waste coalition, said the groups want to know what information was provided to the council and when.

The open records request to the department says, “Frankly, we were incredulous that a meeting that entailed important public health business was provided with less than three full business days’ notice.”

The groups also question whether the Health Council, a mix of health care, industry and consumer representatives, could set up a quorum in such a tight time frame and are asking for copies of all correspondence and phone calls among the nine-member board, the department and any proposed or actual agenda items.

“This was an economic decision, not a scientific one, and it was made when the oil industry asked for a higher radioactive standard a couple of years ago. This is just decorating on the cake with the Health Council. We want to make sure it was legal. If not, we want a do-over,” Dorgan said.

Scott Radig, head of the department’s waste division, said the health council is autonomous and sets its own quarterly meeting schedule, based on whether there’s enough business to conduct one. His division, along with the department’s Radiation Control Program, wrote the new rules and will administer the radioactive waste program.

“We don’t schedule their meetings; we’re given notice of when their meetings will be,” Radig said.

Gordon Myerchin, who served as chairman at the State Health Council’s meeting, said the council’s required meetings are scheduled based on availability of the members. He said the council’s secretary publishes notice and follows state statutes.

The new rules are being reviewed by the state attorney general’s office and from there will head to the Legislative Administrative Rules Committee, possibly in December.

Radig said it’s unlikely any radioactive waste would be disposed of in North Dakota before next spring or summer since special waste landfills would have to apply for an amended permit, or start a new one.

Currently, the state’s radioactive threshold for disposal is so low it’s effectively banned from landfills. It’s estimated about 75 tons daily are generated from oil and gas production and transported to out-of-state facilities.

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