The state Senate has voted to take the environmental functions now in the state Health Department, and put them in a new state agency – the Department of Environmental Quality.
It wouldn’t happen until January,2019 – and only if federal agencies sign off on the new department. It would affect about 170 people who now work for the division. And it would become a Cabinet agency – meaning the Governor would appoint the agency’s director.
"This will not change the department's mission one bit," said Sen. Kelly Armstrong (R-Dickinson), the measure's sponsor. "The Environmental Section of the Health Department will simply become a stand alone agency."
Sen. Erin Oban (D-Bismarck) raised concerns about making the director subject to a Governor’s appointment.
"I want the person in this job to be in a position where they owe no allegiance to the Governor, but rather to the environment, for which they keep watch," Oban said. "I don't want them to be asked to turn a blind eye, or to say or do something that's politically convenient in either direction of politics."
The bill passed 27 to 17 – and now goes to the House for further work.