Encouraging better pipeline construction is just one initiative for the man who will oversee North Dakota's new environmental regulatory agency.

Dave Glatt, chief of the North Dakota Department of Health Environmental Health Section, said, becoming its own agency, the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, will allow it to set its own priorities. And as the head of this transition, he brings a philosophy of openness and cooperation in service to the public interest.

Glatt said, years ago, environmental health and public health issues went hand in hand.

“The environmental movement has really exploded over the years; it’s really changed,” he said.

While operating under the umbrella of the state Health Department, Environmental Health often has found itself in competition with medical matters for funding. And, until the oil boom, Environmental Health often took lower priority, according to Glatt. 

Glatt sees it as an opportunity to be more visible, and more accountable in some cases, to the public. 

“I got the sense the public really didn’t know what we did,” he said. “We’re open now, but I got the sense people want more.”

The Environmental Health Section collects a lot of data, including air quality measurements from electronic monitors around the state. Glatt said he hopes to improve the availability of that data and its interpretation.

For example, he is aiming to tackle the state database of oil industry spills to make it more reader friendly. Right now, to get the full information on spills, people have to click on each report one at a time.

Glatt also brings his own take on regulation.

“Regulation, in and of itself, is not bad,” said Glatt, adding he favors regulating in a way that prioritizes working with industry to find solutions. He’ll strive to maintain and enhance employee presence in the field, not necessarily in an enforcement capacity, but to build understanding and help solve problems.

Glatt said he can come to an industry, saying something is a problem. How do we fix it? In his experience, industry has stepped up to the plate. And without constraints on how to address an issue, they often come up with better, more creative solutions.

“We want protection but freedom on how to get there,” Glatt said.

One area he is setting his sights on is pipeline monitoring, encouraging companies to increase their efforts to build in places with less environmental impact and putting more importance on monitoring systems to improve leak response and control.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said he expects the creation of the new department to be one of the more influential changes made my lawmakers this legislative session — a change which he expects is for the better.

Funding threats

In the more immediate future, Glatt is facing a possibly drastic funding change. Fifty percent of the Environmental Health Section budget is derived from federal money, which the Trump administration proposes to cut significantly.

"I believe you can find efficiencies in every budget," said Glatt, pointing out that indiscriminate across-the-board cuts would hurt programs on which states rely.

Glatt will begin the process of changing to an independent agency by taking public input. He indicated the department has essentially been operating separately from the Department of Health for many years, so day-to-day activities aren't likely to change.

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Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com