Environmental Health Section to transition to new department, NDDEQ

Staff Writer
Devils Lake Journal
Aaron Larsen from the Division of Water Quality takes a winter water quality sample on Devils Lake.

During the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 2327 establishing a new North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality (NDDEQ). Senate Bill 2327 allows just over two years (July 1, 2019) for the North Dakota Department of Health’s Environmental Health Section to transition to the NDDEQ. While the new NDDEQ may be organized differently than the existing Environmental Health Section of the Department of Health, the services and programs provided will stay the same. No new programs are proposed, nor any current programs eliminated as a result of this transition. The primary changes will be the name of the agency and its new stand-alone status. One noticeable change will be the creation of a new 13-member Environmental Review Advisory Board that will provide input to the NDDEQ regarding department policy and new regulations. Ex officio board members are the state engineer, state geologist, and the director of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

An individual with an agronomy or soil sciences degree will be appointed as well as representatives from each of the following: · County/municipal government · Manufacturing or agricultural processing industry · Solid fuels industry · Liquid and gas fuels industry · Crop agriculture · Waste management industry · Thermal electric generation industry · Environmental sciences · Livestock industry The director of the NDDEQ will be a cabinet-level position appointed by the governor and will serve as the executive secretary of the board. The existing Air Quality Advisory Board and the Water Pollution Control Advisory Board will be consolidated, and additional members will be appointed. The biggest challenge in the creating the new NDDEQ will be obtaining all necessary approvals, revising rules as needed, updating interagency agreements, and ensuring that primacy agreements with the U.S.

Environmental Protection Agency remain in place. As previously stated, the new DEQ will have the same duties as the Environmental Health Section. Currently, there are more than 160 employees in the section’s five divisions: Air Quality · Indoor Air Quality (lead, radon, asbestos and mold) · Air Quality Monitoring (permits, inspections, modeling and regional haze) · Radiation Control Laboratory Services · Chemistry Municipal Facilities · State Revolving Fund (Clean Water and Drinking Water) · Drinking Water Waste Management · Hazardous Waste · Solid Waste (recycling, pollution prevention, permitting, inspections) · Underground Storage Tank Water Quality · Groundwater (ambient monitoring, well construction, underground injection control) · Permits (municipal, septic pumper, stormwater, animal feeding operations, pesticide application) · Watershed Management (ambient stream and lake monitoring, nonpoint source pollution, total maximum daily loads, harmful algal blooms, fish kill reporting) · Spill Investigations (environmental releases and investigations) · Special Projects (water quality standards, interstate and international water issues, environmental impact review) Establishing a new DEQ will bring greater visibility to the wide range of duties performed by the employees in these programs. A state agency specifically created for environmental protection will also make it easier for the public to know who to contact with questions about the environment. Public meetings are being planned to offer North Dakotans the opportunity to provide comment during the transition period. Public input will help guide development of the new DEQ, with the goal of promoting efficiency, transparency and responsiveness as the agency works to protect the state’s natural resources.