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Mike Nowatzki, Forum News Service, Published February 24 2014

EPA administrator to visit Bismarck area on Friday

BISMARCK – Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy will visit North Dakota this week, after her agency was criticized last fall for not coming to the state to take input on proposed rules for power plant emissions, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said Monday.

McCarthy will visit the Bismarck area Friday, meeting with representatives of the coal and utility industries about proposed EPA emission rules for existing power plants. She also will hear from the agriculture sector about proposed changes to the federal Renewable Fuel Standard that would affect North Dakota’s ethanol industry, said Heitkamp.

“The best way for her to respond to those concerns is to actually meet and visit with people, and hopefully this will be a huge educational experience for her,” Heitkamp said.

“North Dakota offers the country a broad array of energy opportunities,” McCarthy said in a news release from Heitkamp’s office. “I’m glad Sen. Heitkamp invited me to visit, and I’m looking forward to spending time with her and hearing the views of the state’s residents.”

Last fall, Heitkamp and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., criticized the EPA for not stopping in North Dakota during its 11-city tour to gather public input on ways to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. The so-called “listening sessions” were held at the EPA’s regional offices across the country.

Concerns over new standards

The EPA proposed new standards in September that would limit carbon dioxide emissions from new coal-fired power plants to less than half of what North Dakota’s seven plants currently emit. Proposed standards for existing power plants will be issued by June, with states’ plans to meet those standards due by June 2016.

North Dakota utilities and power plant operators have raised concerns that the new standards for existing plants will lead to major increases in utility rates for customers, and they question whether the technology is available or commercially viable to meet the standards.

“She needs to come out and explain her process on existing sources, and she needs to hear the challenges and concerns that our industry has,” Heitkamp said, adding, “This isn’t about resistance. This is about impossibility.”

Cramer said in an emailed statement Monday that he’s pleased McCarthy accepted Heitkamp’s invitation.

“I know the administrator will find North Dakotans to be among the most engaged and best-informed citizens in our country and I join all of them in welcoming her to the happiest place in America,” he said.