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Steve Holen: ‘Extraordinary places’: Sounds good. Bad policy.

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BISMARCK — While the concept of “extraordinary places” may sound good in theory, in practice it takes away local control, sets a dangerous legal precedent and erodes the rights of private property owners.

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No one is more committed to protecting the land in oil country than the people who live there. That’s why the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties oppose the establishment of an “extraordinary places” designation by the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

Our counties already employ some of the toughest land use and zoning ordinances in the country, and we believe these decisions are best made locally. In fact, the proposed Industrial Commission policy does little to enhance protection of these special places, while shifting the ultimate oversight from local citizens to the state.

More importantly, these new regulations are a violation of private property rights. What gives government the right to tell private property owners how to manage their land or require them to spend more in development of that land?

The concept of some proclaimed greater good should not trump the rights of private property owners.

Let’s be clear: This designation is about protecting the view as people pass by this privately owned property, not actually protecting the land, groundwater or air. We already have loads of regulations at the federal, state and local level aimed at protecting the environment. We don’t need the North Dakota Industrial Commission to become another Environmental Protection Agency-like entity to regulate the view in oil country.

And this designation puts North Dakota on a very slippery slope. If we can force these conditions on property owners in oil country, what is to stop the state from deciding that they should tell farmers where to put grain handling equipment near the Sheyenne River or Pembina Gorge? Or is it just a matter of time before the state forces ranchers to move their operations away from scenic byways?

Finally, the legal implications are not lost on those wanting to earn a living from their land. While we have heard repeated assurances that environmental groups could not use this designation to stop energy and agricultural development, experience from other states shows that this is just not true.

The courts have used what was thought to be limited regulatory authority to impose broad restrictions on agricultural and energy development across this country. And those opposed to energy and agricultural development don’t have to win in order to be successful.

They can use the courts to harass and cause endless delays until private property owners lose heart or run out of money.

Our association voted unanimously to oppose the creation of this designation by the Industrial Commission. We invite Herald readers to join us in defending private property rights and put a stop to this ill-advised expansion of government intrusion into our lives.

For more information about the proposed “extraordinary places” regulation or to register your comments, go to nd.gov/ndic and click on the Draft Drilling Permit Review Policy. Comments will be taken up until the close of business on Tuesday.

Holen is president of the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties.

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