Hoeven, Armstrong propose opening up N.D. access to state-owned minerals

Bicameral legislation offered by U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) and U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) would authorize North Dakota to relinquish state-owned lands and minerals contained within tribal reservations and the Little Missouri National Grasslands to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

In exchange, North Dakota would receive federal land and minerals of equal value within the state, according to the lawmakers’ bill summary for the North Dakota Trust Lands Completion Act, S. 3200/H.R. 5855. Rep. Armstrong sponsored H.R. 5855 in his chamber, while Sen. Hoeven sponsored S. 3200 alongside lead original cosponsor U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) in the Senate.

“Federal, state and tribal land and mineral rights have long been intermixed. This has created duplicative layers of regulation, prevented North Dakota from developing the energy resources it owns, and limited the state’s ability to generate revenue for education and other purposes,” Sen. Hoeven said. “Our legislation helps ensure North Dakota can access the full land and mineral rights it was promised, while restoring tribal ownership over lands and minerals within reservations and enhancing conservation efforts on the National Grasslands.”

Currently, North Dakota holds more than 130,000 acres of minerals and over 31,000 surface acres within tribal reservations that are largely unavailable for development. Existing federal laws do not adequately allow for the state and federal government to exchange land and minerals, limiting the state’s ability to generate revenue from the land and minerals it owns, according to the bill summary provided by the lawmakers.

If enacted, the North Dakota Lands Trust Completion Act would resolve this issue by allowing equal value transactions between North Dakota and the Department of the Interior to exchange land and mineral rights, the summary says.

“The commingling of federal, state, and tribal lands has long prevented North Dakota’s resources from being fully utilized,” said Rep. Armstrong. “Our bill will give the state of North Dakota and the tribes more control over lands within their jurisdiction, which will reduce the amount of duplicative regulations and benefit people across our state.”

Valuations conducted under the enacted bill would be determined by Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions, as well as the Uniform Standards for Professional Appraisal Practice, according to the bill summary, which says that valid existing rights also would be respected in such transactions and there would be no impact on any Indian treaty rights.

The bill has garnered support from the commissioner of the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands and the chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation.