With the passage of SB2327 and the creation of the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, our state is now better equipped than ever before to take control of its own environmental future.
This bill will move the environmental health section of the Department of Health into a separate state agency and elevate it to a cabinet-level position that reports directly to the governor. By transferring responsibilities into a new state Department of Environmental Quality, North Dakota will improve its ability to retain primacy in choosing how to meet federal regulations most prudently, efficiently and effectively.
We are committed to protecting our environment, our economy and the quality of life of our people, but the federal government’s one-size-fits-all approach often is a poor fit for North Dakota. The so-called Clean Power Plan and Waters of the U.S. regulations are just two recent examples of how disastrous and disruptive Washington’s misguided policies can be. While the current administration is more friendly to our key industries, future administrations may not be as accommodating. We need to do all we can now to ensure we control our future, how we develop our natural resources and how we protect our environment.
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With the rise of energy development and our historic reliance on agriculture, there never has been a more important time to assert our independence. The passage of this bill ensures that North Dakota can function as a stand-alone energy and agricultural state. We can develop our natural resources responsibly under local control and without the federal government imposing regulations upon us that don't work for our state. The Department of Environmental Quality will serve as the first line of defense against the overzealous Environmental Protection Agency and protect our energy and agricultural jobs from federal overreach.
The creation of the Department of Environmental Quality also allows for greater efficiency and effectiveness in government with only a minimal increased cost for the transition and one accounted for under the existing budget. The new head of the department, as appointed by the governor, will have more flexibility in using his staff and resources and will be able to protect the environment more effectively and efficiently.
The environmental quality section already has distinct duties from the rest of the Health Department — regulating water and air quality, waste management, and the like — so the transition will not be disruptive to the rest of the Health Department and state government. And the transfer of responsibilities will be a gradual change, utilizing existing staff and infrastructure.
With a tighter budget this biennium, the Legislature is looking to reinvent government in order to operate more effectively and efficiently. The creation of the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality is sound policy that will help the state to grow in efficiency and effectiveness without growing government. More importantly, our state will be better positioned to protect our people, our environment and our key industries and the jobs they create.
Sen. Jessica Unruh is a Republican from Beulah and Rep. Todd Porter is a Republican from Mandan.