Letter: The Forum has become an accomplice in fossil fuel industry propaganda

Garret Zastoupil takes issue with a recent story about The EPA's denial of a coal ash disposal permit for Rainbow Energy Center.

Letter to the editor FSA

On March 29 the Forum published a story highlighting the state government’s response to a recent letter from the US Environmental Protection Agency. In an unfortunate journalistic practice, Patrick Springer elected to repeat talking points by North Dakota’s coal industry officials and their allies in the state government, rather than provide accurate information on the issue raised by the EPA and the larger set of challenges facing the coal industry.

Federal environmental regulators have proposed denying a coal ash disposal permit for Rainbow Energy Center — which generates almost half of North Dakota's electricity.

I have spent the last two years studying the ongoing crisis of the coal industry in North Dakota. One of the most consistent themes in my research has been to muddle the facts with political talking points. Unfortunately The Forum has found itself repeating these mistakes.

Springer parroted well-worn coal industry talking points, and provided quotes from leaders, including Gov. Burgum, without the necessary facts and context. This is unfortunate, as Springer has a history of strong investigative journalism. In this article though, Springer repeated Burgum’s claim that the EPA is “moving the goalposts after the game started.” However it appears as though the EPA revised the rules that would ultimately impact Rainbow Energy in October 2020 under the Trump administration . These rules appear to be established before the sale of Coal Creek Station to Rainbow Energy were finalized in 2021.

Springer failed to note the real issue at play, though his colleague Mike McFeely did in Februar y. The EPA failed Rainbow Energy’s proposal on four major issues ( this is the language from the EPA ):

1) an inadequate groundwater monitoring network;
2) evidence of a potential release from the impoundment, and insufficient information to support the alternative source demonstration;
3) inadequate demonstration of meeting location restrictions; and
4) inadequate documentation for the design and performance of the impoundment liner.


Importantly, Rainbow Energy’s plan to use an alternate linear demonstration creates a one-in-three chance of “leakage at a harmfully contaminating level” that could harm human health and the environment. If I decided to fly on a plane where one in three oxygen masks didn’t work, I would probably think twice about boarding the aircraft. Yet Springer's article, and the comments presented by government and industry officials, do not address this risk.

It is concerning that The Forum's news has become an accomplice in fossil fuel industry propaganda. Rather than presenting information about the policies and industry trends, The Forum has found itself spreading partial truths at best and disinformation at worst. The Forum has long prided itself on providing in-depth trustworthy journalism to the region. Yet, it can only remain doing so by providing accurate information and holding our political leaders to account.

Garret Zastoupil is assistant professor of sustainable rural economic development at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

What To Read Next
Get Local