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By law, Industrial Commission can’t regulate ‘extraordinary places’

BISMARCK — When it comes to property rights, few in North Dakota lack an opinion, which is why the “extraordinary places” proposal being considered by the North Dakota Industrial Commission is of concern to business and industry throughout the state.

As recently as 2011, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 2204, which effectively said that any attempt by the federal government, or any governmental body for that matter, to include more land into a “heritage area” must first be considered by the Legislature.

The law goes as far to say “no further lands, water, property or facilities may be designated as heritage areas within this state without the approval of the legislative assembly.”

The Extraordinary Places proposal seems to be at odds with the Legislature and this law.

North Dakotans have a long and responsible record of development. We respect the land — whether we use it for agricultural, industry or energy — intending to pass it the next generations in a useable and valuable manner. This includes the use of reclamation for coal mining and our current oil and natural gas development.

The point is, we have done this in the past without an “extraordinary places” rule, and we can and will continue to responsibly develop our resources. This rule is not needed.

A few on the political fringes disagree that energy development can be done in a responsible manner and postulate a more restrictive approach to the use of private property for energy development. Worse is that the public may end up having say over how privately held property is developed for energy development.

This is not to say regulation and oversight are bad. Rather, we have adequate regulatory oversight, and that oversight ought to be between the property owner and the regulator.

If the public gets the ability to influence the regulatory process, it may well constrict the flow of capital to the industrial process. And at the end of the day, this means fewer jobs and less economic vitality in North Dakota.

Senate Bill 2204 — a law already on the books — confirms legislature intent; no other body has the right to interfere with property rights issues without involving the legislative body. Seemingly, this includes the Industrial Commission.

As such, the law suggests that discussion and debate is welcome, but overriding its mandate is unacceptable.

Given this reasoning, it is safe to say the “extraordinary places” debate is healthy and good, but any decision must be referred to the legislative body — or rejected.

Peterson is president and CEO of the Greater North Dakota Chamber.