Legislature moving towards creating a separate 'Department of Environmental Quality'

Mar 29, 2017

Rep. Shannon Roers-Jones (R-Casselton).
Credit ND Legislature

Rep. Sebastian Ertelt (R-Lisbon).
Credit ND Legislature

The Legislature is getting closer to creating a separate “Department of Environmental Quality.”

This kind of state regulation of water and air quality is now in the state Health Department. Supporters of the new department say it would move existing employees of the Health Department into the new agency – and the head of that agency would be appointed by the Governor.

It passed the House 69 to 23. Rep. Shannon Roers-Jones (R-Casselton)  said the Health Department’s Environmental Health Section has become the first line of defense against federal regulatory overreach.

"That section has established primacy over several federal regulations, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act," said Roers-Jones. "Primacy means North Dakota has shown the federal government that we have the staff, the technical competency and the legal framework set up to oversee the requirements of these acts without federal interference."

The bill would transfer 150 employees from the Health Department to the new Department of Environmental Quality.

Opponents said the bill was simply an expansion of government – and had doubts about the primacy issue.

"We've been told there are 45 states who believe they have primacy by having their own environmental department," said Rep. Sebastian Ertelt (R-Lisbon). "How is that primacy working out for them/"

The measure now goes back to the Senate – to see if it agrees with House changes.