All of a Sudden North Dakota and the EPA Are Getting Along

Great River Energy's Coal Creek Station on August 19, 2015, in Underwood, N.D. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)

In years past, when I’d talk with colleagues and others from out of state, I’d joke that North Dakota’s official pastime is suing the federal government.

Because our state does it a lot, and regulations implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency have always been a frequent target. But of late, under the Trump administration, there has been a big shift in our state’s relationship with that federal agency.

“The days of coercive federalism are over,” new EPA head Scott Pruit said earlier this year in a letter to Governor Doug Burgum.

Today, in a press release announcing the EPA’s proposed approval of a state-run carbon capture and sequestration program for North Dakota, the federal agency touted it as an example of “cooperative federalism.”

“North Dakotans know better than anyone the needs of their environment, economy, and communities,” Pruitt is quoted as saying in the release.

“North Dakotans know better than anyone the needs of their environment, economy, and communities,” Pruitt is quoted as saying in the release.

My jaw dropped when when I read that statement. Can you imagine an EPA official under President Barack Obama saying something like that?

You can read the press release below. The policy may seem a little down in the weeds, but it’s a big deal. The idea is to capture carbon from coal-fired power plants and then injected it into the ground as a part of enhanced oil recovery efforts in a way that pushes more oil out of the ground while leaving the carbon sequestered (more background here).

To reasonable people this no doubt comes off as an innovative way to improve the development and use of two types of fossil fuels. Except, the Obama administration had an ideological vendetta against both oil and coal.

The application (see it here) languished for four years under Obama, but today represents a potential win-win for both the coal and oil industries in our state.

“Nearly four years after North Dakota first made the request, the EPA – under new management – is finishing its work on the State’s application to regulate carbon capture within their state boundaries,” Congressman Kevin Cramer said in his own release about the news. “As a former North Dakota Public Service Commissioner overseeing environmental programs such as the Surface Mine Coal Reclamation Act, I know first-hand how efficiently and responsibly the State of North Dakota exercises these delegated powers. With the State’s expert staff and long history of leading environmental programs, it only makes sense for them to take over as the primary regulator of carbon capture regulations. The announcement today is a victory for our State, and I’m grateful for the Administrator Pruitt’s swift action on this request.”

This situation, with both state and federal officials working together on ways to protect the environment without killing off industry, sure seems like an improvement over the Obama-era approach states going to war with the feds over smothering regulations.

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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