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Who’s in charge out there?

By The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead

A verbal spanking administered to a Bismarck-based engineering firm provides a glimmer of hope that the North Dakota Legislature has not yet become a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil and gas industry.

Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, let fly at KLJ because the company has not shared, and apparently would rather not share, information about a study of the future impacts of the state’s oil and gas industries. The study is funded by public money and was ordered by the interim Energy Development and Transmission Committee. Triplett is a member.

The senator has it right. The company plans to submit its draft assumptions to industry experts and agency heads but not to lawmakers. On the face of it, that’s ridiculous. Legislators hired the company. Taxpayers pay the freight. Yet, of all things, KLJ seeks validation of its work from the industry that is the subject of the impact study. Somewhere in there is a fox-and-henhouse situation.

Triplett’s critics might conclude she’s in a snit because a New York-based firm she favored for the work lost out to the Bismarck outfit. She questioned whether lawmakers were being provincial in going with KLJ. It’s a valid point, given the company’s refusal, thus far, to fully brief the committee, while at the same providing data to industries that the company is studying. Which raises the question: Who’s in charge? It appears not to be the legislative committee.

The not-so-subtle suggestion in Triplett’s concerns is that since KLJ does a lot of work in oil country, and certainly wants to do more, its impact study might not be as objective or necessarily critical, as work done by an out-of-state firm. It’s a factor that should not be shoved under the legislative rug.

The Grand Forks senator stressed that the study is supposed to be a public process. She said she wanted to see KLJ’s work to date before the study continues. “This isn’t a study done behind our back in private, she said.” She’s right. She’s speaking up for the interests of taxpayers, and for transparency in public expenditures. Her colleagues on the committee should do the same.

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