Problems with H.B. 1151
I want to bring House Bill 1151 to the attention of all property owners of farmland (pasture, cropland and hay land). The bill would change the reporting requirement from one barrel of fluid to 10 barrels or less for the reporting of a spill or release of fluid within the well pad, production facility or a production-related handling facility. The change could lead to 60 percent less reporting of any spill, leaks or release of any fluid.
During the House Energy & Natural Resources Committee hearing the sponsor of the bill felt the current policy of reporting should not be more stringent than federal policy for oil and gas companies within the well pad without any regards to property owners of farmland. The North Dakota Petroleum Council testified in support of this bill. The Northwest Landowners Association, North Dakota Farmers Union, other individuals and I testified in opposition to H.B. 1151 because of no reporting of any spill or leak that is 10 barrels or less.
H.B. 1151 was amended in the House Energy & Natural Resources Committee with the intent the amended wording was a compromise to the concerns of property owners. (A report to the commission is not required if the leak, spill or release is crude oil, produced water or natural gas liquids in a quantity of less than 10 barrels cumulative over a 15-day time period and remains on the facility or site and the facility or site has impermeable base material and containment.) The amended wording is not acceptable as long as "no reporting of less than 10 barrels" is in the bill.
The amended version gives the surface owner the right to review the well file or facility file for any written violation notice that was issued by the commission. The problem is the surface owner would have to make the inquiry for this information on their own.
H.B. 1151 as amended did pass on the House floor. The bill will be heard in the the Senate but has not been scheduled for a committee hearing yet. It will probably be in the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee. It is important for landowners to get a message to your senators as to why you oppose this bill.
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The sponsors of this bill are Representatives Streyle (R-Minot), Dockter (R-Bismarck), Lefor (R-Dickinson), and Senators O. Larson (R-Minot), Schaible (R-Mott) and Unruh (R-Beulah).
The North Dakota Farm Bureau says they have farmers and ranchers interested, so my question is why was the North Dakota Farm Bureau not there in opposition of this bill?
Democratic-NPL legislator priorities
We've reached the halfway point of the 65th legislative session and, despite being in the minority, Democratic-NPL lawmakers have played key roles in passing legislation to build a stronger economy, protect working families, and balance our budget without passing the burden onto seniors or our children.
One of the legislature's most important accomplishments has been the bipartisan effort to support alternatives to incarceration. Over 80 percent of North Dakota's incarcerated population suffers from mental disabilities or substance abuse problems. Working in a bipartisan fashion, we've reinvested $7 million in services like addiction treatment, counseling and education. This reinvestment requires no new spending and will save taxpayer dollars that would otherwise be spent on overcrowded prisons by helping incarcerated individuals become productive members of society.
Education has always been the top priority of the Democratic-NPL caucus. In the first half of the session, we've worked on bipartisan legislation that increases innovation and creativity in the classroom, returns control over schools to the communities and families they serve, and encourages qualified teachers to serve in rural districts or specific subject-areas that need to be filled.
While Democratic-NPL lawmakers are always willing to work across the aisle to support bills that truly benefit our students, we won't shy away from fighting against measures that hurt our education system. This session, we've helped defeat ill-conceived proposals to divert funding away from public schools, use taxpayer dollars to provide vouchers with almost no accountability, and reject federal education funding, thereby shifting costs onto local taxpayers. With each of these measures, our foremost concern has been to put the interests of students first.
Democratic-NPL lawmakers have strongly advocated for continuing Medicaid expansion, which provides health care to 18,000 North Dakotans. Medicaid expansion was discussed at length in the House, and we are pleased that this vital priority has received such strong bipartisan support. We're also pleased that House Republicans heeded the resounding calls to oppose the proposed nursing home tax on seniors. Moving forward, Democratic-NPL lawmakers will be watching closely to make sure this new tax on seniors doesn't sneak back into a final version of the budget.
Incarceration, education, Medicaid and senior care are all important aspects of our state budget. As we address these issues, one thing is clear: we face a budget crisis. Agency funding is being cut 18-20 percent, and thousands of North Dakotans are waiting anxiously to know whether they will be able to keep their jobs. This crisis is not the result of circumstances; in many ways, it is a crisis of the legislature's own making. Over the last several years, the legislature cut corporate taxes and reduced revenues, while increasing spending. Now, our government's ability to keep its promises on property tax relief, funding for education, behavioral health, support for rural communities and many other priorities, is in jeopardy. Democratic-NPL lawmakers stand ready to engage in a good faith conversation about solving this crisis without defaulting on our promises to cities, counties, school districts, and most importantly, the people we represent.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the issues that have been addressed during the first half of the 65th legislative session. But we believe these are important issues that deserve to be highlighted. As the minority leaders in both chambers of the legislature, we are encouraged by the positive steps that have been taken, and we're confident in our ability to work together to address the issues that still require our attention when lawmakers return next week.
Sen. Joan Heckaman is the Senate Minority Leader; Rep. Corey Mock is the House Minority Leader.