Gov. Jack Dalrymple's proposed addition of an Energy Division to the Department of Commerce is already being called a "tough sell" by people on both sides of the issue after a Friday morning presentation to legislators on the House Appropriations Committee.
Dalrymple made his original pitch for the new division in his budget address, asking for two new full time employees and about $600,000 for the division which wouldn't take away any regulatory power from any existing agencies but would instead serve as a coordinating division for the booming energy sector.
Now it's up to Department of Commerce interim director Paul Govig to sell the idea to legislators.
"I think there's a greater benefit than what's being spent here," Govig told legislators and later said the division would help to take a big picture look at the industry as all the effects it's having.
"I think we can improve our ability to deal with the industry's infrastructure needs in a proactive way rather than a reactive way," Govig said.
The idea was met with a little skepticism from lawmakers who were trying to get a better idea of what exactly the division would do.
Taking another approach, Rep. Eliot Glassheim, D-Grand Forks, asked, "What won't happen if we don't approve this division?"
Glassheim said in a later interview that if Dalrymple thinks it's important, he's inclined to lend his support, especially if it's a drain on the overall department director.
"They still have to make the case about how it will be an advantage to developing the energy industry. I'm not sure some of us are convinced yet," Glassheim said. "If all it is is a cheerleading division, then I don't think we need it because everybody knows development is happening and that brings significant economic gains."
Rep. Bob Martinson, R-Bismarck, said he and others are concerned with the price tag and adding two more employees to the state's payroll.
"I get the impression the feeling around here is that it's going to be a tough sell. I'm not sure most people see the need for it," Martinson said.
"I just don't think we need someone to say, ‘Hey, you should come drill for oil in North Dakota,' " Martinson added later.
Govig said he thinks it's proper for legislators to take a skeptical look at new agencies or divisions, but he sees the coordination aspect of the division as a selling point.
"We're not proposing to take anything away from anybody. It's beneficial to commerce in that we're a promotional agency, not regulatory. We're here to promote and enhance," Govig said.
(Reach reporter Rebecca Beitsch at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)