New legislation creates ND Department of Environmental Quality

BISMARCK, N.D. – Governor Doug Burgum signed legislation on April 7 separating the Environmental Health Section from the North Dakota Department of Health to create a standalone Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
Most states already have a DEQ separate from their health department, and establishing a DEQ streamlines government and acknowledges the importance of environmental protection in North Dakota by elevating that responsibility to a cabinet-level agency whose director is appointed by and reports directly to the governor.
“In the spirit of reinventing government, this new agency maintains existing staffing and program levels while giving our environmental team the autonomy it needs to be more efficient, flexible and better able to implement federal regulations.” According to Dave Glatt, section chief for the Environmental Health Section as part of the North Dakota Department of Health, when the Health Department was initially established, environmental and public health issues were handled by the same people (medical doctors, sanitary engineers, etc.).
“In essence, the Environmental Health Section was operating as a separate agency due to the complexity of environmental regulations and all the technology and technical expertise that was required.
Since it has become so specialized, it made sense to break it out into its own agency.” The bill gives the Department of Health until July 1, 2019, to obtain the approvals and amend the agreements necessary to ensure the state maintains strong primacy over all federal and state regulations that protect North Dakota’s clean air, water and land.
Glatt noted how it became clear when they started looking into breaking the department up that there were a lot of misconceptions to if there was even an environmental program within the state.
“People will not only be more aware that there is environmental protection going on within the state, but they’ll know that there is a state agency implementing those programs,” he said.
“We won’t have to go through a health officer, but instead everything goes directly through the governor, so we’ll be more responsive in that area and we’ll be able to set priorities more directly related to environmental health.” The DEQ will be overseen by a new 13-member Environmental Review Advisory Board, created through the consolidation of the existing Air Quality Advisory Board and the Water Pollution Control Advisory Board.
“On that board there are three representatives from agriculture – one for the livestock industry, crop agriculture and one that gets into agronomy and soil sciences.
We’ll have broad based representation and input into the state’s environmental programs, and I see that as a positive for the agriculture industry,” Glatt concluded.

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