Did you know that the North Dakota Legislature is about to pass legislation making virtually any information about radioactive materials and radioactive waste in North Dakota secret and confidential? HB 1113 has already passed the House and is set for Senate action. This bill, introduced by the state Health Department, is part of an effort by the state to dramatically weaken the state’s laws regarding the disposal of radioactive waste from the oilfields. The public comment period has just expired on proposed rule changes by the department that would allow a tenfold increase in the level of radioactivity disposed of in North Dakota and allow for this disposal in established special industrial waste sites. HB 1113 is a legislative companion to these rule changes.
Section 3 of this bill repeals a whole page of Century Code law requirements for getting a license to handle radioactive materials and mandated public information requirements. It substitutes one sentence instructing the Health Department to establish “rules” instead of laws for licenses and “as appropriate” provide for written comments and a public hearing. In other words, they can ask for public comment only when they want to. This effectively ends public participation in the licensing of radioactive material disposal sites. No longer are requirements law; they are bureaucratic rules that can be changed without legislative action.
Section 7 is the last and most outrageous part of this bill. It is only one line long, one very short sentence. “Section 23-20.1-09.1 of the North Dakota Century Code is repealed.” Normally in a bill amending or repealing portions of the Century Code, that portion is printed with a line through the affected text. Not here. Anyone who wants to know what is being repealed must dive into the Century Code and look it up. How many people have an available law library and the understanding to use it? How many legislators will vote on this bill having no idea what is being repealed? I found a friend who was able to tell me.
Section 23-20.1 deals with ionizing radiation. Subsection 09.1 is entitled “Confidentiality of Records.” It begins: “Any record or report or information obtained under this chapter must be available to the public. …” It then outlines a set of stringent rules for what can be declared confidential. Very little can be kept from the public. If this section is repealed, the Health Department will have carte blanche to declare virtually anything about radioactive waste confidential.
If you live on a farm or ranch next door to one of the 10 special industrial waste sites in Williams and MacKenzie counties potentially to be designated for radioactive waste disposal, the Health Department will be under no legal requirement to inform you of anything about the site.
If another Noonan gas station stuffed with filter socks is found, you will likely not read much about it in the paper because all the details could be declared confidential.
This bill is the very antithesis of open, honest and transparent government.