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PSC denies coal mine application again

BISMARCK (AP) -- State regulators said Tuesday that the permit application for a coal mine in southwestern North Dakota was deficient and they returned the document to developers for a second time requesting more information on reclamation, financing, mining facilities and water impacts.

South Heart Coal LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Houston-based Great Northern Power Development, applied in March for a state mining permit that would cover 4,581 acres near South Heart. The mine would fuel a proposed hydrogen-to-electricity factory that is expected to cost more than $1 billion.

The state's Public Service Commission found more than three dozen "deficiencies" in the company's mine application in April, and returned the application to the company. Jim Deutsch, director of the PSC's reclamation division, said the application was resubmitted but it still lacks detail in 10 areas.

"There are some details they still need to address," Deutsch said Tuesday.

A review of the project is suspended until the company responds, he said.

The PSC outlined the mine plan's shortfalls in a Nov. 24 letter to the company. Richard Southwick, a South Heart Coal vice president, said he got the letter Tuesday.

"Our job is to make sure their concerns are adequately addressed, but obviously we haven't done that yet, but we're getting close," Southwick said.

The company should be able to answer the PSC's questions by the end of the year, he said.

Deutsch said regulators want more details about bonding, reclamation, mine facilities and infrastructure such as mine facilities and haul roads. The PSC's letter said the company failed to provide results of a water sample from a reservoir in the area.

Southwick said the company also must submit a more detailed plan of a proposed bridge over a tributary of the Heart River.

"The biggest work will be the bridge design but the rest of this is fairly straightforward, and I don't expect it will be very difficult to prepare a response," he said.

Some residents near the proposed mine and environmental groups have been critical of the project.

"We didn't think their plan was very good and apparently the PSC doesn't either," said Wayde Schafer, a North Dakota spokesman for the Sierra Club. "They're just at the application process and they're screwing this up."

If approved, it would be the state's fifth lignite mine and the first one to come on line in almost 30 years.

The mine would be next to the proposed power plant, about four miles southwest of South Heart. The mine would produce about 2.4 million tons of low-grade lignite coal annually from private land leased from farmers and ranchers in the area.

Great Northern initially proposed building a coal-fired electric power plant near South Heart but changed its plans to construct a factory to convert lignite into synthetic gas, which in turn will be used to manufacture hydrogen. The hydrogen will power turbines to make 175 megawatts of electricity.