We Should Be Governed by the Law, Not by Politics

A woman holds a sign during a 2016 protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Bismarck NICK SMITH / BISMARCK TRIBUNE

Politics is the means through which we choose who gets to make the law and what the law says.

Politics should not govern us.

All too often, it does.

To illustrate this point, let me turn to what might seem like an odd example. There is a business in Grand Forks called the Northern Air Family Fun Center. They want to add some things to their menu of services. Specifically, they want to let people throw axes, and they want to start offering beer and wine, and they need the approval of the local government to do these things.

Not everyone in the local government wants these things to happen. Yet the Grand Forks Herald, in an editorial, responds to those objections with…so what?

“If owners of Northern Air are meeting all local codes and prerequisites, then why should the council stand in their way?” the paper wrote.

Our laws allow pipelines to be built. Our laws allow refineries to be built. Once those laws are satisfied (and, admittedly, some of the delays are related to litigation ensuring the law has, in fact, been followed), the infrastructure should be built.

That’s exactly right. The City of Grand Forks and the State of North Dakota have laws and regulations in place for establishments like Northern Air. As long as Northern Air is following those laws and regulations as they are currently written, what business does the local government have in standing in the way of additional offerings to the public?

If Northern Air wants to do something that isn’t currently against the law, but perhaps they shouldn’t be allowed to do, then we have a process through which we can change the code. The City Council can pass ordinances. The State of North Dakota can make a new law.

The written law isn’t just a boundary on how we, the public, may behave. It is also the boundary of the government’s authority.

This matters in issues far beyond a local restaurant wanting to serve some beers to people hurling axes. Particularly when it comes to the energy industry, it seems as though progress on things like refineries and pipelines are obstructed endlessly as politics infiltrate the regulatory process.

The Dakota Access Pipeline was delayed by the Obama administration, as was the Keystone XL pipeline. In Minnesota, the fight over the Line 3 pipeline continues. Here in North Dakota, the Davis Refinery continues to face litigation from left-wing groups.

The issues around these projects are complicated, but the foundation on which the controversy surrounding them is built is explicitly political. People who don’t like oil development pervert the regulatory process as a means to roadblock the infrastructure which serves that development.

Our laws allow pipelines to be built.

Our laws allow refineries to be built.

Once those laws are satisfied (and, admittedly, some of the delays are related to litigation ensuring the law has, in fact, been followed), the infrastructure should be built.

But that’s not what we’re doing. Instead, these projects are delayed for years, if not indefinitely, long after having complied with the law.

That has to stop.

If we want to ban pipelines, then fine. Engage in the political process. Elect the right people. Change the law.

Since that seems unlikely, for no other reason than because every single one of us is using oil-based products, let’s build the pipelines and refineries and all the other infrastructure after a reasonable regulatory process.

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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