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North Dakota Following Trump’s Lead, Pursuing ‘Regulatory Lite’ Energy Policies

North Dakota regulators are pursuing energy policy reform, embracing collaboration with the industry and channeling the Trump administration’s goals.

"Innovation, not regulation" is the current theme of Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, who on Wednesday challenged the industry to hit the 2 million b/d mark for state oil production at the Williston Basin Petroleum Council’s (WBPC) conference in Bismarck.

Burgum said there is an ongoing "successful partnership" between the state and the oil and gas industry, which he praised for its innovation in the nation as a whole. "All the work the industry has done is why we remain the No. 2 oil producing state, and we're on track to break our record” of 1.2 million b/d.

"We will see the day when North Dakota reaches 2 million b/d," he added. One way to do that Burgum said is through enhanced oil recovery (EOR), including the potential to use carbon dioxide (CO2) from “our very productive coal plants."

The governor predicted that North Dakota's use of CO2 would become so productive that eventually the state would need to import supplies.

"Last year, Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford and I had a chance to meet with more than 75 members of the industry involved in pipelines, and I laid out the challenge to completely eliminate all pipeline spills," Burgum said. He pointed to the U.S. airline industry, which strives for zero accidents, as pipeline operators also should. "This industry is under the same type of microscope as the airlines,” but with technology, he predicted it also could get to zero spills.

WBPC presenters also called for a better way forward on industry oversight, citing the example of the Trump administration’s rollback of regulations. Speakers included Region 8 administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), two state attorneys general (AG) and North Dakota's Dave Glatt, who runs the Department of Health’s environmental health section.

Glatt said he wanted more of a cooperative approach from the federal government about how regulations are implemented. EPA Region 8 chief Douglas Benevento emphasized that the Trump administration agrees that there is a "substantial role for the states to play."

Benevento and Glatt agreed they are talking about "cooperative federalism," while North Dakota AG Wayne Stenehjem and Montana AG Tim Fox outlined areas where the states are still working on court challenges regarding what they saw as systematic regulatory overreach by the Obama administration on water, hydraulic fracturing and air quality cases.

Benevento said he wanted to correct the "false narrative" of combining compliance and enforcement in the regulatory arena. "They are not the same thing,” he said. “Compliance is a goal and enforcement is a tool.”

Benevento said EPA's role is to make sure the federal laws are being implemented "faithfully and fairly," but implementation should be left for the most part to the states.

Stenehjem added that he would continue to challenge in court carryover policies from the Obama administration. In the case of the Waters of the United States he said "we need a new rule that respects states' responsibility."

In a setback for the Trump administration, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in January that the nation's district courts, not the appellate court system, should decide a legal challenge over which water bodies deserve protection under the federal Clean Water Act.

"The Trump Administration has provided a breath of fresh air on the regulatory front," Stenehjem said. "...I think we are on the way to a new day. Frankly, I am tired of referring to the EPA as the 'defendant.’"

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