The federal Office of Surface Mining recently released its annual evaluations of the Public Service Commission’s coal regulatory program and the abandoned mine lands program. These evaluations are done annually to assure that the programs are being implemented consistent with the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977.
“The complimentary language in these reviews emphasizes the outstanding work our Abandoned Mine Lands and Reclamation teams do throughout the year,” said Commissioner Randy Christmann who holds the coal mining, reclamation, and abandoned mine lands portfolio. “Their efforts are assuring that North Dakota’s landscape will be safe, productive and beautiful for future generations.”
Regarding the coal regulatory program for current mining operations, the evaluation indicated that “North Dakota has an effective program with no issues in need of corrective action. The Reclamation Division carries out its duties using the appropriate technical expertise and with a high level of professionalism.”
The evaluation of the abandoned mine lands program said, “the state administers an excellent program in full compliance with their approved plan.” They also state that the program “met the goals of abating hazards and improving site conditions at all projects conducted. These projects have reduced the likelihood of death or injury to property owners and the public.”
The PSC’s abandoned mine reclamation program aims to eliminate hazards related to coal mining that was conducted before the enactment of reclamation laws in the 1970’s. The program is funded by a fee that is collected on all active coal mining operations. PSC staff designs and manages projects each year and contacts the work through a competitive bidding process.
Both programs were headed by Jim Deutsch, who retired at the end of November after 42 years with the Public Service Commission. The Commission appreciates his dedicated efforts and achievements that are obvious in these evaluations. Dean Moos, former Assistant Director in the Reclamation Division, has taken over as director as of December 1.
Licensed grain storage in North Dakota has increased more than 4.5 percent from approximately 451 million bushels of capacity in 2015 to 471 million bushels currently, according to the North Dakota Public Service Commission. This does not include private, on-farm grain storage which is not tracked by the PSC.
“Even in these times of depressed commodity prices, our grain industry has really stepped up by adding valuable new storage,” said Commissioner Randy Christmann. “As our agriculture producers continue to increase their ability to grow food and fuel for the world, we continue to benefit from additional storage options.”
The Commission licenses 383 grain warehouses and 81 roving grain buyers. North Dakota licensed public grain warehouses average 1,229,500 bushels of storage capacity, more than double the average capacity in 2000. One hundred years ago the state had more than 2,000 licensed elevators, averaging only 30,000 bushels of capacity for a total licensed capacity of approximately 60 million bushels.
The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement has given its 2016 Small Project Award to the North Dakota Public Service Commission’s Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Program. The Commission’s AML Program is receiving the award for the exceptional work done at the Halleck Mine approximately five miles north of Bowman.
The Halleck Mine was an underground mine with a coal seam that was 30-40 feet thick and the top of it was only 10-50 feet below grade. It operated from about 1919 to 1944. Sinkholes have been common in the area and were known to be near roads and a 30-inch diameter high-pressure natural gas pipeline. In 2014 emergency repairs were completed due to several large sinkholes that severed a fiber optic telecommunications cable and were dangerously close to the pipeline.
This reclamation project involved drilling and grouting to locate and fill underground voids near public roads and near the natural gas pipeline. Extra precautions were taken during the procedure to prevent damaging the pipeline while making certain the voids were filled.
“Because of the reclamation fee being paid by current mine operations, the PSC is able to repair some of these sites that were abandoned decades ago,” said Commissioner Randy Christmann, who holds the coal mining, reclamation and AML portfolios. “It allows us to protect our infrastructure and our citizens without using taxpayer dollars. This was a particularly challenging project and our team did a great job.”
The Commission’s AML Program is in place to eliminate dangerous situations that resulted from mining activities which occurred before the 1977 federal reclamation act. The Commission receives funds for the program from a federal reclamation fee that is collected on all mined coal.
The North Dakota Public Service Commission has denied a request from Xcel Energy for an advance determination of prudence for solar generation projects in Minnesota.
The decision by the Commission emphasized a conclusion that the power is not cost-effective and would cause increased costs to North Dakota customers without corresponding benefits.
Xcel Energy had requested the determination from the Commission for 187 MW of solar energy. The projects were proposed to meet mandates passed in 2013 by the State of Minnesota that require the company to serve 1.5 percent of its retail customers with solar energy by the end of 2020 and 10 percent by 2030.
The advanced determination of prudence would have assured the company in advance they could charge customers for the costs of the solar projects.
“We need to do all we can to make sure that the state of Minnesota’s scheme to mandate very high-cost electricity is not paid for by North Dakotans who happen to receive service from Minnesota-based utilities,” said Commissioner Randy Christmann.
Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann was presented with the Distinguished Service Award for a Regulatory Program at the Lignite Energy Council’s Annual Meeting held in Bismarck last week. The award recognizes Commissioner Christmann’s work to educate North Dakotans about the impact of the proposed Clean Power Plan.
During remarks given by Jason Bohrer, Lignite Energy Council President, it was noted that Commissioner Christmann attended four public hearings organized by the Department of Health that were held in Williston, Beulah, Bismarck and Fargo. At each meeting, Commissioner Christmann appeared and gave a statement regarding the Clean Power Plan’s devastating impact on the state of North Dakota and the lignite industry.
“As a member of the PSC, he deals with the public and knows that any rate increase creates hardships on families – especially those on fixed income,” said Bohrer during his remarks. “So it’s our pleasure to recognized Randy Christmann for his voice in letting people across the state know just how devastating the Clean Power Plan would be on electric rates to our state citizens and the lignite industry.”
“It really is my pleasure to support North Dakota’s lignite industry because what they do not only benefits those people directly involved in the industry, but it also benefits all of us who cherish the dependable and affordable energy they provide,” said Commissioner Christmann.
The North Dakota Public Service Commission is observing National Weights and Measures Week March 1-7 to commemorate John Adams signing the first United States weights and measures law on March 2, 1799. The goal is to educate people about the program which ensures weighing and measuring devices being used for commercial purposes are accurate.
Government weights and measures programs protect both the buyer and the seller from inaccurate devices. Inspectors use extremely accurate equipment to inspect scales, meters, scanning equipment and packaged products at supermarkets, discount and department stores, grain elevators, livestock sales rings and gasoline stations.
“North Dakota is committed to making sure commercial transactions are equitable transactions between business operators and consumers,” said Commissioner Randy Christmann, who holds the Weights and Measures portfolio for the Commission. “This is accomplished cooperatively between state inspectors and licensed private inspectors who work every day to protect consumers in North Dakota.”
North Dakota’s Weights and Measures program also monitors and tests private, commercial testers of measuring devices to assure their accuracy.
Weights and measures programs are in place to protect consumers and assure fair and equitable transactions between customers and businesses. When inspectors discover violations, they take enforcement actions against the operator of the measuring device which may include ordering that it not be used until it is fixed or possible penalties prescribed by law.