Judge Reviewing Davis Refinery Situation Says State Regulators Can’t Expand Their Jurisdiction Based on Speculation

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

The Dakota Resource Council, a local front group for the national environmental movement to impede fossil fuel development, has recently been making a stink about the Davis Refinery which is currently under construction near Belfield, North Dakota.

In the past the DRC and other activists have opposed the refinery because, according to them, it’s too proximate to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. After that argument got little traction (for good reasons firmly rooted in reality), the DRC has begun arguing that the refinery project hasn’t been sufficiently regulated.

Specifically the DRC claims that Meridian Energy, the folks behind the refinery, has been facetious about the capacity of their facility.

State law requires that any facility with a capacity over 50,000bpd fall under the siting jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission. At times, during the lead up to the commencement of construction, Meridian has said their facility would exceed that threshold. Currently, however, they say the facility will fall just under it.

The DRC says Meridian’s claims about production capacity should be investigated because they may be manipulating the numbers to avoid extra regulatory scrutiny.

Somewhat sympathetic to that argument is Republican PSC member Julie Fedorchak, who has gone so far as to suggest that Meridian voluntarily subject itself to said scrutiny.

The latest development was the PSC, on a 2-1 vote (Fedorchak joined by fellow Commissioner Brian Kroshus with Commissioner Randy Christmann dissenting), requesting that an administrative law judge review the matter.

He’s done that, and in his findings he points out that it’s irrelevant what Meridian’s motivations are for where they’re setting their facility’s output number. As long as they fall below the threshold in statute, the PSC doesn’t have jurisdiction.

An excerpt:

The judge, Patrick Ward, goes on to point out that state statute requires that Meridian get PSC approval for any expansion of this facility which would take their production beyond the threshold. But until that happens, the law says what it says, and no amount of bellyaching from activists can expand the PSC’s statutory authority.

Which makes sense, right? Do want a situation where state regulators, however well-intentioned, can expand their regulatory authority based on speculation about what a given company’s motives or goals might be?

C’mon.

Here’s the full recommendation the judge passed on to the PSC which will consider it at a later date:

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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