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LETTER: Proposed bill would strengthen environmental laws on radioactive materials

Recent letters have criticized House Bill 1113 as reducing citizen rights and industrial oversight; one characterized it as "the very antithesis of open, honest and transparent government."

A quick read of the bill can cause confusion, but when read as a whole with all other laws pertaining to hearings and ionizing radiation, HB 1113 does exactly the opposite of what the letter-writers assert.

HB 1113 maintains notification and hearing requirements, clarifies the opportunity for appeals and increases the penalties for violations of the law. The North Dakota Department of Health supports HB 1113's proposed changes, which update the 1960s-era law as follows:

■ Clarifies how permitting decisions made by the NDDoH can be appealed to an administrative or district court by the applicant.

■ Increases civil penalties $10,000 to $12,500 per day, per violation, for violations of the law, and lets the state pursue violations as a Class C felony. There are no felony provisions in the current law.

■ Maintains the public participation process requiring adequate notice and opportunity for comment. It does not allow the department to "ask for public comment only when it wants to," as one letter-writer asserted.

■ Declares that all applicant records and data are open records under state law unless they are otherwise protected by federal confidentiality laws. Currently, companies may request that their records remain confidential even if no other federal protections apply. And rather than make "virtually any information about radioactive materials and radioactive waste in North Dakota confidential," the amendment makes all records open unless exempt or confidential under federal or state law.

HB 1113, if passed, will provide greater transparency and enhance oversight of the sources of ionizing radiation.

Dave Glatt