Meridian Energy Group, the fly-by-night California startup company that proposes to put an oil refinery next to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota, came one step closer to being able to start construction this week when the North Dakota Supreme Court upheld the Permit to Construct the refinery, issued by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, formerly the North Dakota Department of Health Environmental Health Section.
The decision ended, for now, at least, a two-year legal battle between Meridian and the National Parks Conservation Association, the nonpartisan organization that has been the leading voice in safeguarding America’s national parks. “NPCA and its nearly 1.4 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations,” the group said in a statement this week.
The battle began when the DEQ issued Meridian a Permit to Construct their refinery in June 2018. The refinery site is just three miles from the national park named for American’s greatest conservation president.
As part of the permit process, the DEQ held an open comment period and received more than 10,000 comments opposing the issuance of the permit for the refinery beside the park.
NPCA also questioned the data submitted to the DEQ and had an independent analysis conducted, which disagreed with the state’s analysis, finding that the refinery “is almost certainly a major source of pollution that would release substantial amounts of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants — all harmful to human and ecological health.”
The analysis also found that Meridian Energy Group “significantly underestimated or omitted emissions in its application from sources including flaring events; startup, shutdown and malfunction; and associated equipment, among other sources.”
Still, the DEQ issued the permit, and after NPCA filed a lawsuit challenging it, Stark County District Judge Dann Greenwood, in Dickinson, N.D., ruled that the permit was valid. NPCA appealed, and the Supreme Court upheld his decision this week.
NPCA is not taking the decision lying down. In a statement Monday, Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air Program director for NPCA, said, “Today’s ruling is a major setback for the preservation of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and all it protects. From the start, the state has attempted to cut corners in approving this permit and now one of America’s most special places, its wildlife and visitors, and the communities that live nearby, will be the ones paying the price for years to come. The court’s ruling disregards all who care about our national parks, including the more than 10,000 people who voiced their concerns that the refinery would destroy the air we breathe and put the park and the local economies at risk.
“Today’s ruling is unacceptable,” she continued, “but the battle is not over, and NPCA will continue to work to protect Theodore Roosevelt National Park for generations to come.”
Those are reassuring words from one of America’s leading conservation organizations. I’m eager to hear what their next steps might be. And how we all can help them.
Monday’s decision clears one legal hurdle for Meridian. There’s one more to clear. Two other conservation organizations, the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Dakota Resource Council, also have an appeal pending before the Supreme Court over whether the company should be forced to undergo an environmental review by the North Dakota Public Service Commission to see if the site is compatible with a project as big as a refinery. That ruling could also come this summer.
If the court rules in favor of Meridian in that case, the company can begin building the refinery but will still need a Permit to Operate it when it is complete. Given the attitude of the Department of Environmental Quality (a name that belies its purpose, given its record of ALWAYS siding with industry), that seems a fait accompli. Here’s what Dave Glatt, the head of the DEQ, had to say about the Supreme Court decision, in a Meridian press release sent out today. You read that right — a press release MERIDIAN sent out today.
“The Department appreciates the collaborative approach Meridian has taken throughout the entire process. Our primary evaluation criteria remain that our partners follow the science and the law, and Meridian demonstrated leadership in both areas. The people of North Dakota demand these virtues in all our actions, and they should accept nothing less.”
Uh huh. That’s our state’s chief environmental officer. Commenting on the company that wants to build an oil refinery right beside Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I’m pretty ashamed of North Dakota’s leaders today.
So, Meridian is a step closer to building that refinery. The problem for Meridian, though, is it’s short two things:
I didn’t use the term “fly-by-night” in the first sentence lightly. The company has said and done a lot of things that make everyone wonder if this whole project is just a big stock scam to make a bunch of California slicksters rich at the expense of gullible investors, and if Meridian ever really intended to build a refinery.
When the company announced the project back in 2016, it said it would be operating by 2018. That launch date has changed about a half-dozen times, and is now late 2023. And the company still doesn’t have the money to build the refinery. As recently as two months ago, it was still calling North Dakotans trying to get them to invest in the project, with little success.
The company once bragged it had reached agreement with the giant investment firm Morgan Stanley to provide the money to build the refinery, but the financing agreement that I saw expired in December, and I haven’t been able to find out if there’s a new agreement with Morgan Stanley in place because no one at Meridian will talk to me. Humpf. Imagine that.
I finally got so frustrated trying to get phone calls returned that I thought I’d send a letter asking for a meeting with the company’s CEO, Bill Prentice, one of those California slicksters.
So I went to Meridian’s website to find an address. Found it. Right there on the home page:
13252 37th St. SW
Belfield, N.D. 58622
Well, how about that? Who knew? Take a look for yourself. It’s right there on their website, down in the bottom left hand corner.
So I fired off a letter to Prentice, asking him if I could arrange for an interview the next time I come to western North Dakota. Stuck it in an envelope and mailed it to those Corporate Offices. Well, just like those phone calls, I got no response.
A couple of weeks later, it showed up back in my mailbox, with a yellow sticker on it. The U.S. Postal Service said it was undeliverable. So …
RETURN TO SENDER
ATTEMPTED — NOT KNOWN
UNABLE TO FORWARD
Which brings us back to the second thing Meridian is short of: Credibility.