Judge denies eastern ND hearing on coal permit
By DALE WETZEL, The Associated Press
An administrative law judge has denied a request for an eastern North Dakota hearing on a proposed coal mine near the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, saying it was filed too late and would go against normal procedure.
Allen Hoberg is reviewing South Heart Coal LLC’s permit application at the behest of North Dakota’s Public Service Commission, which will decide whether it should be granted.
The company is developing a 4,600-acre mine that would produce about 2.5 million tons of lignite, which is a low-grade coal. North Dakota now has four lignite mines, which produced 28.8 million tons of coal last year. Most of their output is used to fuel nearby electric power plants and to make synthetic natural gas.
South Heart Coal’s proposed mine is intended to supply a gasification plant that would manufacture hydrogen, which would be used to generate electric power. The process would drastically cut pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, company officials say.
Kristin Hedger, a Dickinson businesswoman, filed a request in June for Hoberg to hold a public comment session on the project in eastern North Dakota, on the same day Hoberg held two hearings at Dickinson State University.
In a letter dated Friday, Hoberg said the deadline for requesting hearings passed in mid-March, and that it would be unusual to hold one so far from the mine’s proposed location.
“Accordingly, because your request for an informal conference in Fargo was not timely made, and because the (state law) and custom have required the location of informal conferences to be either in the locality of the proposed mining, or in Bismarck, holding an informal conference in Fargo or elsewhere in eastern North Dakota would not be correct,” Hoberg wrote.
Hedger said a hearing in eastern North Dakota would have been useful. The project has drawn statewide interest, she said, in part because the mine’s proposed location is about 13 miles from the national park’s south unit in southwestern North Dakota.
“Any landmark decisions, such as the one we’re considering, requires the entire community of North Dakota to truly have an opportunity for evaluation,” she said Monday.
The goals of developing North Dakota’s coal supplies, and to promote energy independence, should keep in mind the need to “move forward with such projects cautiously,” she said.
Critics of the project argue it would harm the region’s farming and ranching economy and damage its water supplies. Company officials contend the site can be mined in an environmentally sensitive manner, and that park visitors will not notice its presence.
Hoberg, in his letter, said he expected to schedule another public hearing in Dickinson next year after South Heart Coal officials have a chance to discuss any Public Service Commission staff concerns about the application, as well as any possible technical problems.
The Public Service Commission’s three commissioners had considered whether to rule on the hearing request themselves before concluding earlier this month that Hoberg should make the decision.
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