BISMARCK, North Dakota — The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, April 13, 2016
Tough rules appropriate for refinery
A proposed refinery near Fryburg faces a lengthy and difficult permitting process and that's fair.
Meridian Energy Group, of California, wants to build a 55,000-barrel-per-day refinery to make gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, asphalt and lubricants at an estimated cost of $850 million. The company will have to meet stringent air standards before construction can begin. The location of the refinery, about three miles from the Theodore Roosevelt National Park at Medora, prompts the tough rules.
Craig Thorstenson, environmental engineer with the state Health Department's air quality division, told reporter Lauren Donovan that the park has a Class I air quality standard. He said any new source of nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate will face a federal standard to prevent significant air quality deterioration that's tougher than for all other air.
Thorstenson thinks it will take up to a year to run computer models that factor in existing pollution, new pollution from the refinery and wind and weather data. Other pollutants from a refinery also will play a role in the decision.
William Prentice, Meridian president, vows to do everything the best way. He said the company will use the finest technology available. "We want to make sure we get this right. Refineries are dirty when they're old. This project, when it's done, will be the cleanest plant ever built," Prentice told Donovan. He also said the refinery would be sited so it's not visible from the park, adding the plant will be cleaner than a typical dry cleaner.
That all sounds good, but as the process plays out we'll learn whether Meridian can live up to its promises.
The National Park Service will monitor the permit process and could issue a determination of adverse impact. If the state agreed with the park service, the permit would not be issued, or the permit could be appealed. It's possible the Environmental Protection Agency could get involved.
Billings County has a big say in the process.
Meridian wants Billings County to set aside an air quality permit as a zoning condition so it can proceed with dirt work and build an agricultural tree buffer. The company doesn't want to lose the summer construction season. The county's planning and zoning committee will take up Meridian's case on April 21 in Medora. Any recommendation goes to the Billings County Commission at its May 3 meeting. If approved, all the company could do is move dirt.
The Tribune doesn't see any need to rush any aspect of the project. The Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Medora have become a destination for tourists from across the country. North Dakotans continue to flock to the area throughout the year. The park and Medora are assets that need to be protected.
If Meridian can deliver on its promise of creating a refinery that can't be seen from the park and follows tough air standards they should qualify for permits. The burden remains on the company.
Minot Daily News, Minot, April 14, 2016
Criminal justice system in need of makeover
While North Dakota is nicely removed from some of the challenges that face urban war zones such as Chicago and Baltimore, the state and Ward County do share some of the most confounding problems.
That's why a visit last week from representatives of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative to Ward County criminal justice system figures, seeking information and perspectives, was a welcome one.
The Justice Reinvestment Initiative seeks to reduce spending on jails and prisons and reinvest savings in strategies to reduce recidivism and improve public safety. All three branches of state government had to agree to participate in the initiative, which half the states in the nation have also decided to do.
It's important to point out that this is not a radical left-wing effort to reduce crime by "being soft" on criminality. On the contrary, it is a holistic look at best practices for administering justice to reach the best outcomes for states and communities. Those best practices include reducing the increasingly overwhelming costs associated with incarceration, successfully mustering individuals out of the criminal justice system after their debt to society is paid, and improving public safety through efficiency within the system.
Furthermore, it will be the responsibility of state leadership to augment, improve and enact recommendations produced by the initiative. This is not a "cookie-cutter" situation wherein North Dakota will be boxed in to a game plan the same as any other or every other state. Instead, it is a comprehensive look at North Dakota data and a potential process to achieve North Dakota goals.
Clearly there is need for change. According to researchers with the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, who visited with Minot Daily News in addition to local criminal justice officials, initial data show a population increase of as much as 10 percent in western North Dakota from 2005-2013 and up to a 100 percent increase in crime in some counties. Our law enforcement and prison infrastructure can't possibly meet need. Its expense is weighing down public budgets, and there is no sign of this trend reversing.
State leaders are right to invite this opportunity, local criminal justice officials were praised for their contributions and, hopefully, now the process will unfold effectively so that real, positive change will be possible in the 2017 Legislature.