When Environmentalists Are Bad For The Environment

In recent years North Dakota has had a bit of a waste management issue in western North Dakota. More people, and more traffic and activity, has produced more waste in the oil patch and created a need for more waste disposal infrastructure. And we aren’t just talking about trash in the ditches, either.

Several instances of illegal dumping of radioactive filter socks have made statewide and even national headlines. To be clear, these filter socks were imbued with a very low-grade sort of radiation, but they were still dangerous and the illegal dumping of them is unacceptable.

The State of North Dakota has taken action to crack down on this dumping, but what is needed is infrastructure to provide a safe destination for such material. Ironically certain political activists – like the left-wing Dakota Resource Council and former broadcaster Darrel Dorgan (brother to former Senator Byron Dorgan) – have simultaneously been some of the loudest complainers about illegal waste disposal and the largest opponents to building infrastructure for safe disposal.

Their misguided activism has created a toxic environment that’s not at all conducive to solving these problems. Case in point, the war in Dunn County – at the heart of the Bakken oil patch – over a proposed landfill which could begin accepting low-grade NORM (naturally-occurring radioactive material) from oil development if changes to state policy go through.

Local citizens frightened and misinformed by hyperbole from the likes of Dorgan and the DRC (more on that here) have been vigorously opposing a project proposed by Green Group Holdings, a waste management company from Georgia. A meeting about the proposed landfill got ugly last night, and while most of the media coverage has focused on the hostility toward Green Group from some of the attendees, one simple fact speaks volumes about how absurd this situation is.

Green Group is being denied a permit for their landfill despite meeting every legal requirement for a permit.

Commissioner Daryl Dukart acknowledged that Green Group had met all the requirements in its permit application, but added that “outside questions” had cropped up in the meantime that needed to be answered. He said he wanted to know more about what types of waste the landfill would accept, and he also asked if hiring a third-party expert to examine the proposed site’s suitability would be fine with Green Group.

“That’s one of the directions I would push pretty hard,” Dukart said.

The “outside questions,” of course, stem from the ill-informed activism of the aforementioned left-wing groups. And if you’re thinking this situation is remarkably similar to the one surrounding rail safety, you’re right.

…isn’t that what we all want? Safe, responsible, efficient disposal of potentially harmful material?

Anti-oil activists like to talk about “bomb trains” hauling North Dakota crude and the threat they pose to communities along rail lines. But when talk turns toward building pipelines which could significantly reduce oil-by-rail shipments the anti-oil activists oppose those too.

Because their real goal isn’t safe and responsible transport of oil. Their goal is to create a political bottleneck which makes it more difficult to ship oil. And they’re willing to do that even if they’re actually making us all less safe in the process.

In terms of waste disposal, if North Dakota had landfills which could accept NORM, it would be cheaper and easier for companies doing oil development in the state to dispose of it. And isn’t that what we all want? Safe, responsible, efficient disposal of potentially harmful material?

I don’t think that’s what the activists opposing this landfill in Dunn County want. I think what they really want is a halt to oil development, period. Just like the “bomb train” activists.

And you have to wonder, should a lawful project meeting all requirements set out in the law really be held up because of purely political and ideological reasons?

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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