Regulators allow coal plant complaint to continueBISMARCK — State regulators said an environmental group’s complaint against a coal-drying plant
BISMARCK — State regulators said an environmental group’s complaint against a coal-drying plant in southwestern North Dakota could go ahead after a second company dropped its plans to develop a coal mine nearby.
The state Public Service Commission voted Wednesday to allow the Dakota Resource Council and a group of six landowners who live near the proposed plant to amend their complaint and add new information to it.
“This just sort of wipes that slate clean, allows the parties to start fresh,” said Kevin Cramer, the commission’s president.
GTL Energy USA Ltd. is building the plant near South Heart in rural Stark County, about 13 miles west of Dickinson. Using a method called beneficiation, the plant would remove some of the coal’s water and impurities, thus boosting its energy value and allowing it to burn more cleanly.
Another company, Great Northern Project Development, applied to open a small coal mine near the plant.
Landowners and the Dakota Resource Council argued that the drying plant needed a coal mining permit because GTL Energy would process coal from Great Northern’s mine.
However, Great Northern withdrew its mining permit last March. The Public Service Commission’s decision Wednesday means the process may begin again, with the proposed mine no longer a factor in the argument, Cramer said.
Paul Blackburn, an attorney for Plains Justice, an environmental advocacy organization that is representing the Dickinson-based Dakota Resource Council and the landowners, said he expected GTL Energy to file a request to dismiss the complaint.
Blackburn believes that the Public Service Commission has the authority to regulate the plant’s operations, including its handling of coal dust, plant waste and land reclamation practices.
“There is still very much a case here,” Blackburn said.
Brian Bjella, a Bismarck attorney for GTL Energy, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Last week, North Dakota’s Health Department issued a construction permit for the coal-drying project, which is needed before it may begin operations.
The plant is already being built. Robert French, the chief executive officer of GTL Energy, said he hopes it can be finished by mid-September. Heavy winter snowfall and spring flooding have delayed the project’s expected completion date by more than two months, he said.
The permit includes requirements for dust control at the plant site. Before the plant processes any batch of coal, the Health Department must have analysis of the content of coal samples taken from the same mine, the permit says.
The coal’s concentration of arsenic, chromium, mercury, uranium and beryllium must be reported, as well as the mine’s name and location.
French said the plant is likely to test coal from a number of U.S. and international mines, as well as from lignite mines in North Dakota.
GTL Energy USA Ltd. is a unit of GTL Energy Ltd. of Adelaide, South Australia.
“We’re trying to upgrade the North Dakota lignite to a higher quality of coal,” French said. “That is our primary objective.”