Energy development in North Dakota is influenced by siting law, including a rule identifying prime farmland as an exclusion area. However, correctly interpreting that rule presents somewhat of a challenge in that there is as much speculation as tangible evidence to support original intent.
If anything, commission testimony from the late ’70s and early ’80s strongly suggests land type discrimination as a primary reason it was created.
At the time wooded areas were afforded more protection than prime farmland and understandably, agricultural producers weren’t happy about transmission lines instead being shifted onto their best ground against their wishes.
Extensive review of the rule by legal counsel at the Public Service Commission concludes there is ample flexibility in how it can be applied if as the rule also states, there is a negligible impact on agricultural production in the state.
As a quasi-judicial body, the commission’s responsibility is to evaluate the record and make objective decisions regardless of personal preference or face unintended consequences. Each decision sets precedence for not just one specific type energy type, but for all future development including renewables, oil, gas and coal.
Without question, energy markets continue to be skewed by federal energy subsidies heavily favoring renewables. Long-term impact to lignite production, our state’s fifth largest industry, as well as reliability of the nation’s electrical grid is a significant concern.
However, attempting to leverage private property rights as a means of countering market inequities is even more troubling.
It was never intended for any regulatory body to have that kind of freedom, or to in effect, attempt to redefine statute in the decision-making process.
Protecting private property rights and safeguarding citizens from government overreach is a fundamental reason siting laws exist.
Further, a “government knows best” approach does not reflect the will of the people nor is it the reason citizens elect individuals to represent them.
The creation of the prime farmland rule prevents the taking of land from an unwilling participant. It was never intended to deny willing individuals from doing as they wish with their own personal property.
The role of government is to protect the public from detrimental or unwanted outside influences, not themselves.
When an individual willingly and freely pursues a new business venture with land they own, within the rule of law, their wishes should be respected.
Doing so otherwise does nothing less than strip them of their private property rights and freedoms granted under the constitution.
The role of government is to respect and protect those rights, not deny them.