Feb. 12–A bill before the North Dakota House of Representatives would provide up to $5 million for industries within the state to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies on legal issues.
Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, sponsored House Bill 1432 that appropriates funds for the challenges. The bill also creates a committee of political, agricultural and energy industry leaders chaired by the North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture
The bill received a do-pass recommendation from the House Agricultural Committee and has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee. Brandenburg expects the bill to reach the House floor next week.
“What’s happening is the environmental groups circumvent Congress with rulemaking,” he said. “If we’re not there to present our cause, we’ll get run over.”
One issue he hopes can be addressed is the “Waters of the United States” proposal by the EPA that seeks to identify what waters are subject to the federal Clean Water Act. Farm groups have opposed the plan, calling it an overreach by the EPA.
“This goes into providing sound science,” Brandenburg said. “We don’t want to go into litigation. We want to do the right thing. We are the best stewards of the land.”
The North Dakota Petroleum Council is also backing the bill.
“It is a nice bill for industries of all types and agriculture to be very aligned,” said Carrie Cutting, vice president of the Petroleum Council. “There have been too many settlements behind closed doors, agreements that are not in the best interest of the landowners or scientifically based.”
Cutting said some environmental decisions are made during what is called the “sue-and-settle” process. This process starts with an environmental group bringing a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requiring a ruling concerning an environmental issue such as the endangered species status of a plant or animal. The judge might require a ruling within a limited amount of time. This limits research on the issue.
“The whole sue-and-settle process stands in the way of industry, states’ rights and property owner rights,” Cutting said.
Two species of butterflies, the Dakota skipper and poweshiek skipperling, were listed as endangered species in October, Cutting said. Challenging the regulations concerning the butterflies may be one of the issues addressed by the Environmental Impact Advisory Committee.
“If farming activity occurs in the habitat of these butterflies, even simple activity such as fencing could violate the Endangered Species Act,” Cutting testified before the House Agriculture Committee.
Cutting and Brandenburg said the intent of the bill is to provide funding to make sure scientific facts were presented during discussions of environmental issues that impact North Dakota industries.
“We are not going to sit back and not say where’s the science,” Cutting said.
Brandenburg looks at the bill as a way to protect North Dakota agriculture and industry.
“We need to do something to protect the industries of the state,” he said.
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org