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Sen. Tyler Axness, Published August 10 2013

Letter: Check, balance missing in ND energy development

As a founder and co-chairman of the first bipartisan North Dakota Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, I was intrigued by many points raised in the Aug. 5 Forum editorial (“Worrisome Badlands oil leases”). The editorial highlights the need for: 1) a balanced approach in energy development and the conservation of the state’s outdoors, 2) a check and balance for executive agencies, 3) public participation in the direction of our outdoor policy.

So, where is the balanced approach? During the 63rd session, Democratic ideas were brought forward to protect land, air and water while progressing in our welcomed industrial expansion. Many of them were defeated and replaced with weaker substitutes by the Republican majority.

My friend, Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, introduced SB 2315 to cap flaring and gather natural gas after the first year of well production. This bill was defeated and replaced by another that even the oil industry says will have little to no impact. It is estimated the state missed out on $1 billion in revenue over the past year alone.

I sponsored a resolution for the public to vote on. SCR 4027, if passed, would have established a fund to be used in protection of our outdoors and natural habitat with enough resources to have a real impact. Research by the Department of Game and Fish shows a correlation in the state’s loss of habitat and the decline of wild game. I respect the hard work the good people of the department have done, and I’m sure the 40,000-plus North Dakotans denied a deer license this year would like something done long term for future seasons. This bill would have established the possibility of a more balanced approach moving forward. It was defeated and replaced with another watered-down version and an impact that has yet to be seen.

Where is the check and balance for executive decision making? The three-member Industrial Commission has already erred in pursuing energy encroachment on other historically and environmentally sensitive sites such as the Killdeer Mountains.

The editorial described the commission as exercising “almost unchecked authority in these matters.” I ask the public: Is it time to establish an advisory board with members of the public and the power to appeal commission decisions along with a more open dialogue on what direction we want to go as a state?

The editorial goes on: “Voices from the state’s hunting lobby have been muted or quiet.” Though more than 70 hunters appeared overnight to testify in support of SCR 4027, it appears these North Dakota hunters and outdoor enthusiasts have been drowned out by the more than boisterous Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, which has already threatened to halt meaningful change in outdoor policy.

I find it ill-conceived and out-of-touch, considering hunting in North Dakota has an economic impact of approximately $70 million in wages and salaries and contributes roughly

$222 million to our economy, according to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. This is a benefit to North Dakota businesses both big and small. Drive by the Scheels parking lot in my district or ask anyone from the Devils Lake Basin, where I grew up, if increased access to hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation is a good idea for North Dakota.

The auction of mineral leases was legal, but it leads to a bigger discussion we must have. I ask the public to consider: Are state laws adequate to ensure the North Dakota we inherited has a desired balance in development and conservation of our land and history? Are we willing to see unchecked, short- term overdevelopment of our land at the cost of a sustainable landscape that our grandchildren can experience? This is our heritage and who we are as a people in the upper Midwest.

Axness, D-Fargo, represents District 16 in the North Dakota Senate.