Weather Forecast


Legislators come out against ‘special places’ proposal

State legislators are coming out with concerns about Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s proposal for protecting certain sites from oil development.

Stenehjem presented his list of “extraordinary places” last month to the North Dakota Industrial Commission, of which he is a member.

On Saturday, Minot Rep. Roscoe Streyle circulated a scathing column against the proposal.

“What makes these sites so ‘special’? And what about our citizens’ private property rights?” he asked.

Rather than view obstructions, well sites are “beautiful” and represent “prosperity, growth, jobs and America’s leap forward to become energy independent,” wrote Streyle, a Republican. He called the proposal a “direct attack” on the “free market capitalist system.”

While Streyle took an industry-focused approach to his opposition, Sen. Kelly Armstrong, a Republican who represents Dickinson, brought up issues with transparency and the special treatment the rules could give a single industry in a letter to the Industrial Commission on Thursday.

He wrote that the proposal would, for the first time, give “heightened standards” to specific places in the state.

Armstrong, a lawyer, had issues with transparency in the process.

“This list was compiled by one member of the commission. This list was never subject to public debate. This list was never subject to legislative hearings,” he wrote. “It is disconcerting to me that this commission would voluntarily decide to overstep its authority in such an extraordinary way.”

Streyle said in an interview that he agrees with Armstrong’s letter, and that he has received calls from some Republican lawmakers also voicing opposition.

“Their main thing was they think (the Industrial Commission) may be overreaching their authority too. It’s always a touchy issue with the executive branch and the legislative branch of either one of them overreaching their constitutional power,” Streyle said.

Armstrong said he also has received some calls from lawmakers who agree that this should be a legislative process.

The proposal as it stands brings up “serious private property rights concerns,” and would open the door for litigation from mineral owners or similar parties who feel their property rights are being devalued, Armstrong said.

With the Industrial Commission’s next meeting set for Jan. 29, Streyle said he wanted to get his letter out to bring attention to the issue.

“I think it’s important because there’s a lot of issues that go through the Industrial Commission and, unfortunately, there’s not all that much attention on those issues,” he said. “And an issue like this, it has far-reaching effects.”

Stenehjem’s proposal would establish buffer zones of up to two miles around each site, among other extra permitting steps.

The list includes Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s three units, Lake Sakakawea, the Killdeer Mountains and other sites, totaling 18 places.

Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, who is on the Industrial Commission, has voiced concerns over redundancies with existing Department of Mineral Resources rules.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple hasn’t publicly stated a firm stance, and will likely be the swing vote.

The commission plans to revisit the proposal at a future meeting.

Streyle said he’s not against protection, but that there’s already a stringent permitting process and that any more rules should go through the open legislative process rather than be added into the administrative code.

“It’s a type of regulation that I don’t think belongs with three people,” he said.