Hearing for DRC complaint could be scheduled soonThe Dakota Resource Council may soon have it’s time to speak with the North Dakota Public Service Commission in it’s complaint against a company constructing a coal plant near South Heart.
By: Beth Wischmeyer, The Dickinson Press
The Dakota Resource Council may soon have it’s time to speak with the North Dakota Public Service Commission in it’s complaint against a company constructing a coal plant near South Heart.
DRC, along with six other landowners, filed a complaint late last month against GTL Energy, which has begun construction on a coal beneficiation plant.
The complaint filed by DRC alleges GTL’s coal plant would violate North Dakota Law. It reads: “In constructing and preparing to operate the Preparation Plant, GTL Energy is conducting unauthorized surface coal mining operations within the State of North Dakota.”
A separate company, Great Northern Power Development, LP, has applied to start a coal mine nearby. In their complaint, DRC alleges that the proposed mine is an activity in connection with the beneficiation plant.
GTL began construction on it’s plant last October and the PSC’s land reclamation director concluded last year that no state permit was needed, although the commission has not made a formal ruling on the matter, said Commissioner Tony Clark.
The North Dakota Public Service Commission accepted DRC’s complaint in early February.
“There is a real decision here for the PSC to consider,” said Paul Blackburn, staff attorney for Plains Justice, the firm representing DRC. “It doesn’t mean that there is any implication that we are right or wrong, just that we’ve stated a question the PSC has agreed to consider.”
Blackburn said GTL Energy submitted a general answer to the complaint, shortly after the PSC accepted the complaint.
“The answer is a little bit like an answer to a complaint in court proceedings,” Blackburn said. “It’s a formal document that says GTL disagrees with us and denies certain interpretation of law and facts.”
In their response to the complaint, GTL states: “GTL Energy denies its beneficiation plant is an activity in connection with a specific mine or proposed mine…affirmatively states that it will operate separately and independent of and not in connection with any specific mine or the proposed mine of GNPD.”
DRC’s complaint states that GTL Energy’s coal beneficiation plant can process around 300,000 tons of coal per year.
Clark said a hearing date has not been scheduled yet, but said a hearing could be held within the next few months, with a rule being given out four to six weeks after that time, or by approximately early summer.
“I suspect it might move into a hearing or potentially we could just require paper briefs to be filed,” Clark said. “I suspect it would be more likely that it would be a hearing so we could have the opportunity to talk to the parties and ask questions.”
Blackburn said North Dakota has its own law that regulates the environmental impacts of surface mining. This state law is based on the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
“I think we have a very strong case,” Blackburn said. “There are about 841 other coal preparation plants similar to this one that is regulated by this law. This is only the second time this issue has been considered in North Dakota but these types of plants are very common in the rest of the country.”
The primary purpose of state and federal mining law, Blackburn said, is to makes sure that the coal mining industry operates as cleanly as possible and the coal mining industry reclaims the land it uses.
“If, as our complaint asserts, GTLE’s proposed coal preparation plant is a part of the coal mining industry, then the state mining law applies,” Blackburn said. “If the state mining law applies, then GTLE would be required to operate the plant cleanly and make the land suitable for some other use once the plant is no longer needed. GTLE could not make a mess and then abandon the plant.”
Blackburn said he and DRC they fail to see why GTLE should refuse to agree to operate its coal preparation plant and reclaim the land in accordance with state and federal coal industry standards.
Clark said he feels that a hearing would be desired by the commission.
“I’m guessing the commission is going to want to learn as much as we possibly can about the type of facility that GTL is looking to build, and then we’ll be taking a look at state law and federal law,” Clark said. “It’s a disagreement over the type of facility that’s being constructed if it’s a project that needs to be permitted under the authority or another type of facility that doesn’t fall under the law and isn’t required to be permitted.”
GTL Energy’s attorney could not be reached by press time.