Last night I was on Valley News Live’s 6:30 Point of View program with Chris Berg talking about the recent controversy over comments made by NDGOP Chairman Robert Harms regarding the Casselton trail derailment. Harms’ comments were reported as a suggested “slow down” of the oil boom, which raised eyebrows since North Dakota Republicans are generally seen as oil-friendly.
Berg asked me what was so unreasonable about some of Harms’ proposals, and my response was “nothing.” Generally speaking, I think Harms’ proposals were reasonable. I’ve known Harms for years, and I think it would be difficult for anyone to describe him as anti-oil (his recent lobbying on behalf of the Environmental Defense Fund aside).
Which isn’t to say that I agree with what he’s calling for. What I dislike about Harms’ proposal is that they are premised on the idea that we should regulate production so that infrastructure can catch up and keep up. I think that’s the wrong way to look at the problem.
A better way would be to ask why infrastructure hasn’t kept up. And the answers to that lay in things like political obstructionism aimed at pipelines.
There are far too many people who think government regulation has to be an adversarial relationship with the regulated industry. We think regulators should be sheriffs, constantly looking to bust the “bad guys” in the industry who are trying to get away with stuff.
To be sure, there’s an element of that in regulation. There are bad actors in every industry, and we do need sheriffs to keep them in line. That said, there’s nothing wrong with an approach to industry that seeks mutually-beneficial relationships.
In a perfect world we wouldn’t need regulation. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, so we have regulation. But regulation should be permissive. We shouldn’t be saying “let’s produce less oil so we can be safer,” we should be saying “how do we produce more oil safely.”