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Democrats fail to separate oil promotion from regulation

Over the last several years one of the favorite talking points of North Dakota Democrats is the idea that the state’s oil regulators are a bit too cozy with the oil industry. Specifically the Democrats gripe about the opening words of Chapter 38-08 of the North Dakota Century Code, relating to the regulation of oil and gas resources. It states: “It is hereby declared to be in the public interest to foster, to encourage, and to promote the development, production, and utilization of natural resources of oil and gas.”

According to the Democrats, it is a conflict of interest for the state to both regulate and promote the oil industry.

Last week the state Senate debated a bill introduced by Senator Connie Triplett (D-Grand Forks) which would have stripped the notion of promotion out of the law. The bill was SB2366. What was interesting is that despite all the griping from Democrats about this issue – and to be sure, it’s been a central theme of Democrat politics for years now – there were a couple of things which seemed to indicate that Democrats didn’t really want to pass the law.

For one thing, the only person to speak in favor of the bill was Senator Triplett herself (she got a little overheated, claiming at one point that the Senate should pass her bill because she doesn’t want more explosive train derailments “on my head”). No other Democrat in the chamber rose to support it.

For another, none of the Democrats requested a recorded roll call vote to an amendment Triplett offered to try and make the bill more palatable to pass (see the video).

It’s almost as though Democrats would rather keep this issue as a talking point than actually change the law. Which speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

As for the legislation itself, Senator Kelly Armstrong (R-Dickinson) carried the bill to the floor with the Senate Energy & Natural Resource Committee’s “do not pass” recommendation and pointed out that many state agencies have a similar dual role to both promote and regulate. Armstrong specifically mentioned the Department of Agriculture, which I thought was particularly apt.

North Dakotans tend to prefer a very cooperative relationship between regulators and industry, and I think that attitude has its roots in what is still the state’s most important industry (ours is just one of two states where the most common job is farming). When you’ve got a state full of agriculture industrialists, you’re going to get an approach to regulation that avoids adversity and conflict.

We can recognize the need for a certain level of regulation for the sake of safety and the environment while still believing that the primary goal is industry. We want rules, yes, but we also want to farm. And pump oil. That’s the point.

Democrats, both in North Dakota and nationally, find this to be anathema. They prefer the approach perhaps best exemplified by the federal EPA which doesn’t promote anything but its own power and authority.

That’s why a statement in our regulatory code that it is in the best interest of the state to promote industry drives them absolutely crazy. But not so crazy that they actually want to change the law.

They prefer it as a talking point for the campaign trail to sway the marginally informed.

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