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Davis Refinery air permit upheld by district court

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

DICKINSON, N.D. -- The Southwest District Court of North Dakota has upheld the North Dakota Department of Health’s air permit issued to Meridian Energy Group last year for the construction of a new refinery on the outskirts of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, according to a news release from The National Park Conservation Association.

The release contained comments from several groups expressing upset over the decision -- environmental groups had sought a different permit with “stronger” air quality requirements and argued that the permit “fails to provide adequate limits” for the refinery’s pollution.

“The court ruling effectively gives a green light for the Davis Refinery to pollute the air at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and surrounding communities,” said Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air Program Director for the National Parks Conservation Association in the release. “North Dakota Department of Health needs to be held accountable for issuing a weak permit and allowing the Davis refinery to continue as planned. We’re carefully reviewing this decision and considering all options to continue to defend the national park and neighboring communities.”

The credibility of the permit was called into question by these legal challenges.

“Courts do not like to overturn the decisions of administrative agencies. We understand that,” said Scott Strand, attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “But this is a situation where the record is clear that the department of health knew that Meridian’s permit application was not credible, but let it go anyway. We will of course explore all of our options.”

Meridian provided the following statement regarding the ruling:

“Meridian is very thankful for the Court’s decision in this matter. Meridian would also like to thank the Department of Health – Air Quality Division for their efforts in this complicated case; the Air Quality Division deserves the respect and gratitude of the people of North Dakota for their expertise, professionalism and dedication to the public trust,” the statement read.

“Meridian believes that this outcome demonstrates the careful preparation that has gone into the engineering and permitting of the Meridian project. As a result of this decision, the Davis Refinery is closer to completion, and Meridian is closer to bringing the benefits of Davis to the local community.”

Critics of the refinery insist that it poses a health risk, regardless of the rulings made by local regulatory bodies.

“I am concerned that the health and well-being of those of us that live and work near the proposed refinery will be adversely affected. Maybe not today but certainly over time,” said Linda Weiss, chair of Badlands Area Resource Council, an affiliate of Dakota Resource Council. “I hoped the strongest air permit would be required to protect the people that will breathe in what comes out of the refinery, but that is not the case.”