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Judge: Air quality falls under state control

Gov. Jack Dalrymple speaks Oct. 13 during a federal Environmental Protection Agency hearing in Bismarck on proposed federal rules for regulating air pollution that causes hazy air.

BISMARCK (AP) -- The North Dakota attorney general said he's hoping a judge's ruling on a dispute over air quality rules will convince a federal agency to adopt a state Health Department proposal on haze pollution from two power plants.

The state has argued that a proposed rule by the federal Environmental Protection Agency would require the Milton R. Young and Leland Olds electric power plants to use a pollution-control technology that is too expensive and may not work.

A motion to resolve the dispute was filed in federal court by Minnkota Power Cooperative Inc., which owns the Milton R. Young plant near Center. U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland said in a 34-page ruling issued Thursday that the state's findings about pollution-control technology were not unreasonable.

"It is well-established that the EPA has the burden of proof throughout the dispute resolution process," Hovland wrote. "The court finds that the EPA has not met that burden."

EPA officials were not immediately available for comment.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the opinion upholds the state's authority to enforce state and federal air quality laws.

"These issues are about North Dakota's sovereignty, its authority, and its demonstrated commitment to protect its environment and economic well-being," Stenehjem said in a statement.

The proposal by the state Health Department would require Minnkota to install pollution controls at a cost of more than $400 million, Stenehjem said.

"The Health Department made its determination after a four-year process in which it consulted extensively with the EPA, considered comments submitted by the public and reviewed hundreds of pages of technical materials," Stenehjem said.

The state proposal calls for improved scrubbers that would remove more sulfur dioxide and other acidic gasses at the two stations. The EPA wants to use a more sophisticated -- and costly -- method of treating the plants' exhaust.