State makes recommendations on federal carbon regulations

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BISMARCK—The public has until April 26 to comment on the proposed repeal of Obama-era regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. For North Dakota's part, state environmental health regulators are calling for repeal and a new rule that would be driven at the state level.

While the Trump administration has been friendly to coal, North Dakota Department of Health Environmental Section Chief Dave Glatt told attendees of the Lignite Energy Council's annual meeting in Bismarck on Wednesday a new rule is needed to prevent a "vacuum" when a new administration takes over.

"We need something there," he said, as a sort of placeholder to prevent another set of rules like the Clean Power Plan, which he felt steps on states' rights.

Glatt said that ideally a new rule would focus on emissions on a plant-by-plant basis rather than statewide. He also said rules should consider the remaining life of coal plants when developing emissions limits and compliance timelines.

Glatt's remarks echoed those made by Lignite Energy Council CEO Jason Bohrer during an EPA listening session in Gillette, Wyo., March 27.

"The Lignite Energy Council has filed comments with the EPA already stating our opposition to the existing rule, which reaches far beyond the fence line of the power plants," Bohrer said in a statement. "Our view is the rule should look at each plant individually and should not lead to generation sources or utilities switching away from coal, but should consider the technologies that are available today."

The Lignite Energy Council is a regional trade association for coal mines, electric utilities and about 300 businesses providing goods and services to the mines and plants.

Minnesota meeting

As part of the process to address coal carbon emissions, Glatt said he also is meeting with his counterparts in Minnesota in May or June.

North Dakota sends a large portion of the coal-fired power it produces to Minnesota, but that state is more aggressive about wanting to reduce its carbon footprint. Glatt said the purpose of the meeting is to find common ground between the two states that would keep coal a part of the energy mix.

Regulation shift

Glatt also updated the Lignite Energy Council members about the shifting of environmental regulation from the state Health Department to the Department of Environmental Quality.

The Environmental Health Section is modifying its rules to fit the new organizational structure in 2020. Glatt said those rule changes will go out for public comment in the near future.

Glatt said the department is making some modifications to update primacy agreements it has with the federal government, which give the state authority to implement federal regulations. The department also is considering increases in permit fees.

Currently, the Environmental Health Section relies on federal funding for 50 to 70 percent of its budget. Glatt said increasing permitting fees would make his new department less dependant on ever-shrinking federal funding.

Glatt indicated he is hopeful everything for the new department will be in place by the end of the year.