ND House Votes To Give Legislature Oversight On Oil And Gas Regulations

HB1187 is one of the bills introduced by Rep. Keith Kempenich (R-Bowman) taking aim at the North Dakota Industrial Commission. That commission, for the uninitiated, is one of the most powerful governing bodies in the state. It consists of the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Agriculture Commissioner. Among other things, it regulates oil and gas development in the state.

The bill has been described by the media, somewhat sensationally, as a “rollback” of recently-implemented oil and gas regulations, like oil conditioning standards, but that’s not really the thrust of it. Rep. Kempenich’s efforts aren’t so much about any specific regulation but about how those regulations are passed. HB1187 would require that any rules of “general applicability” be subject to the review of the Legislature’s Administrative Rules committee.

That committee is our part-time Legislature’s effort to ensure that they’re not ceding their lawmaking authority to the executive branch. To put it another way, the requirement that regulations get approved by the Administrative Rules committee is a way for lawmakers to make sure that the state’s regulators don’t get in the habit of writing their own laws.

Which is a problem we see at the federal level where run-away agencies like the EPA act as though they’re a lawmaking body unto themselves.

Because the debate over legislative powers versus executive powers is about as old as our country is (it really goes all the way back to the cabinet battles between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson under President George Washington), the Dalrymple administration has pushed back against the bill.

But Rep. Kempenich, in defending the legislation during the floor debate, argued about the importance of separate powers in our government. “There’s three branches of government in this country,” he said.

“This isn’t something to take lightly,” he added noting that the legislature’s powers could by a “death by a thousand cuts” if they cede too much power to the executive branch. He also shot down complaints that his bill would slow down the regulatory process too much. “Any time government starts moving fast someone is going to take the short end of the stick,” he said.

Support for the legislation was bipartisan. “Even the commission is recognizing they’re taking this too far,” Rep. Marvin Nelson (D-Rolla) said, referring to the NDIC holding public hearings before recent rule-making. “They should not be able to make rules we say have to go through the administrative rules process.”

The bill passed on a 61-27 vote despite getting a “do not pass” recommendation from a majority on the House Industry, Business, and Labor Committee.

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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