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The site of the Davis Refinery, pictured on July 31, 2018, southwest of Belfield, N.D.. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

Groups appeal decision over refinery near North Dakota's national park

BISMARCK — Environmental groups continued a legal challenge against an oil refinery that's slated to be built on the doorstep of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in southwest North Dakota Monday, July 15.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center, along with the Dakota Resource Council, filed a notice of appeal Monday in the state Supreme Court challenging a lower court decision.

In May, a North Dakota judge sided with state utility regulators who said they lacked siting authority over the facility because its capacity falls just under the legal threshold that triggers Public Service Commission review. State law requires a siting permit for facilities capable of refining 50,000 barrels per day or more, but Meridian Energy Group's plans call for a 49,500-barrel-per-day refinery.

Opponents, however, have noted that the company holds a permit from a separate state agency for a 55,000-barrel-per-day facility.

State health officials granted Meridian an air quality permit in June 2018, a decision opponents are challenging in the state Supreme Court through a separate case. A district judge affirmed the state's decision earlier this year.

Jim Semerad, director of air quality at the state Department of Environmental Quality, said they're keeping a "close eye" on the project and noted significant changes could require a permit change. He called the refining capacity figure an "indicator" for his agency but said it doesn't carry the same legal significance it does under the PSC's siting criteria.

A Meridian spokesman didn't immediately return a message seeking comment about the new appeal Monday afternoon. Previously, the spokesman said efforts to "push Meridian into a PSC siting process" were "a transparent attempt to slow down the project" since Billings County already approved it.

Refinery proponents argue the project would boost the local economy while being environmentally conscious. But environmental groups worry that it would threaten the natural beauty of North Dakota's Badlands.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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