Legislation Would Let Lawmakers Void Expensive Oil and Gas Regulations

Wade Moser, center, chairman of the Outdoor Heritage Fund advisory committee, outlines fund grant applications at a meeting of the North Dakota State Industrial Commission on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016, in Bismarck. Seated are, from left, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and Governor Jack Dalrymple. TOM STROMME, Tribune

At one point last year the North Dakota Industrial Commission (the executive branch triumvirate which regulates oil and gas activity in our state) passed a raft of new rules for the state’s oil and gas industry among them a new requirement for a six inch berm around well sites to help contain spills there.

The new six inch berm rule – which was a twelve inch rule when it was first proposed – impacts some 4,000 well sites in the state. Which means millions and millions of dollars worth of compliance costs for the industry.

Some, including this humble observer, might argue that the executive branch should get to implement such sweeping and expensive regulations unilaterally.

In our state regulations created by the executive branch get reviewed by the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee. The idea is that the Legislature is going to ensure that any regulations created by the executive branch are in keeping with the laws as passed by the Legislature.

It’s a checks and balances thing, and this committee did actually delay the implementation of the berms rule, sending it back to the NDIC for revision (it ultimately took effect earlier this month).

But legislation being considered down in Bismarck would give the Administrative Rules Committee even more authority to declare regulations on the oil and gas industry void. It’s HB1243, sponsored by Rep. Roscoe Streyle of Minot.

An excerpt:

The legislation would also require that members of the NDIC specifically vote to approve the fiscal impact of any proposed legislation. The intent, I believe, being to put the NDIC – which consists of the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Ag Commissioner – specifically on the record approving the costs of the regulations they put in place.

Overall I think this is good policy. We have a very restrained Legislature here in North Dakota. They can only really wield their power when in session, and lawmakers only get to be in session for up to 80 days in a given biennium. Plus, lawmakers are part time.

This gives the executive branch a lot of authority, since they’re all full-time.

It makes sense for lawmakers to assert their authority as a co-equal branch of government with initiatives such as this. Frankly, they ought to do more of it.

Governor Doug Burgum has charged state government with reinventing itself to make it streamlined. Most people interpret that as making existing government functions more efficient. I would argue that another way to achieve that could would be to make it harder for the state to pass costly regulations.

Which isn’t to say that regulations can’t be passed. Only that they should be subjected to a higher level of scrutiny than they sometimes get now.

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 1-2pm weekdays.

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