Generally, the State of North Dakota and its industries would just as soon the federal government butt out, which means the state spends a lot of time suing the federal government over regulation. And now the Legislature seems set to create a fund specifically for that purpose.
HB1432, as amended, would create the Federal Environmental Law Impact Review Committee with an appropriation of $1.5 million.
Here’s the list of people who would serve on the committee, which includes both elected officials and leaders from the energy and agriculture industries:
And here’s what their job would be:
In addition to the $1.5 million appropriation the committee would be receiving from the Legislature they’d also be allowed to accept “gifts and donations” for the purposes of reviewing and potentially fighting federal regulations.
Bill carrier Senator Terry Wanzek (R-Jamestown), who brought the legislation to the Senate floor out of committee, called the this “an effort to hang together” in the face of overreaching federal regulations. He said that too often the federal government will take action against small-time operators who don’t have the resources to fight back and end up settling. He said those settlements often end up creating policy for entire industries, the old “sue and settle” tactic.
“It’s about controlling our farmers,” Wanzek said.
Senator Jim Dotzenrod (R-Wyndmere) agreed. “If you talk to people who farm for a living…there’s quite a bit of concern about their rights to manage their land,” he said. “How can agriculture respond when there are large organizations that can force changes that might not be economical?”
Dotzenrod said the legislation is not about “bashing the federal government” but noted, referring to federal agencies like the EPA, that “there are activists in these organizations and administrators that have behaved unreasonably.”
There seemed to be little disagreement in the Senate chamber over the idea that the federal government at times oversteps, but some Senators were strongly against this committee as a mechanism for addressing it.
“It is a slush fund,” Senator John Warner (D-Ryder) said. “A government handout to interests that could find other means to fund litigation.”
Senator Connie Triplett (D-Grand Forks) agreed, saying the committee amounts to “picking winners and losers” by naming certain groups with “special access.”
“I want a seat at that table too,” Triplett said. “I want a seat for conservationists.”
“I don’t think this is in any way an appropriate way to spend taxpayer dollars,” she continued.
As big a problem as overweening federal regulations are, I’m not sure a special committee comprised at least in part of specific interests groups funded with taxpayer dollars to identify and pursue litigation is the right solution. It smacks of favoritism to me. I like the concept. I don’t like the statutory inclusion of interest groups.
The bill was amended extensively in the Senate, so it will need to get approval in the House. But the legislation did pass their by a wide margin, so it seems likely that the House and Senate will find a way to concur. And given Governor Jack Dalrymple’s enthusiasm for suing the feds to protect agriculture and energy interests in the state, it seems likely he’ll sign.