BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The company planning an oil refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota is asking state regulators to dismiss a complaint filed by environmental groups over the site.
Meridian Energy Group made its request to the Public Service Commission on Wednesday, arguing that the three-member group has no authority under state law to wade into the dispute over the Davis Refinery.
The company's plan to build the $800 million plant 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the park has prompted opposition by environmental groups and others who fear pollution from the refinery will mar the park's scenery and erode the air quality. The park is the state's top tourist attraction.
Meridian maintains the plant will have modern technology and will be "the cleanest refinery on the planet." Supporters say it will boost the area's economy.
The Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Dakota Resource Council in late June filed a complaint with the PSC, maintaining Meridian needs a permit for the site because the refinery's capacity will be 55,000 barrels per day — above the threshold of 50,000 barrels in state law that triggers a PSC review. The groups cited a number Meridian has previously given to the media, investors and government officials.
Meridian attorney Lawrence Bender said those statements were made as far back as 2 ½ years ago and are outdated. The company's current plan is to build a facility processing 27,500 barrels daily, with room for expansion.
"Meridian is constructing a refinery with a capacity of 49,500 (barrels per day), below the statutory threshold," he said.
Meridian CEO William Prentice submitted a signed affidavit saying the company has "no current plans" for any expansion beyond that mark.
The company has defended itself before the PSC once prior, during an informal meeting last December in which Commissioner Julie Fedorchak questioned the 49,500 barrel figure. Prentice said the company wasn't trying to skirt state permitting law.
The PSC, which regulates various sectors of the energy, telecommunications, railroad and grain industries in the state, has not yet decided whether it will open a formal case and conduct a siting review. Such a review, which can take months and cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars, is aimed at ensuring a proposed project is a good fit for the area's environment and residents.
Meridian began site work last month for the refinery it hopes to begin operating in 2020. But the project faces other hurdles.
Three environmental groups have sued over a state air quality permit that asserts the refinery won't be a major source of pollution. The local zoning permit that Meridian received from Billings County is being challenged in court, as well. Meridian also still needs state water and wastewater permits, and it will need to prove once the refinery is built that it meets air quality standards.
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