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Forum Editorial: ‘Extraordinary places’ initiative is sensible

By The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead 

The fictions and distortions by opponents of North Dakota’s “extraordinary places” initiative are just short of out-and-out lies. The rants are not even clever. They are ham-handed misrepresentations that have no relation to the truth of a sensible proposal that was developed by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. The response to his meticulous work has been outrageous. He has been attacked with a level of vitriol and viciousness that indicates his antagonists’ arguments are as vacuous as they are dishonest.

In response to simmering concern about the impacts of oil and gas development on the state’s most sensitive and scenic lands and waters, Stenehjem and Gov. Jack Dalrymple, acting as members of the Industrial Commission, separately visited “extraordinary places.” Commission member Doug Goehring, state ag commissioner, declined to participate – a wrong decision.

A list of places was compiled. Stenehjem prepared a proposal regarding the recognition of those places as special, and – this is the important element – to find ways to protect them without stymying development. Even the governor, who was reluctant to enter the minefield, acknowledged the good sense of the idea and said, “We’ve got to find a way to do this.”

They have found a way. What began as an administrative rule was reduced to a policy. Even then, the policy was modified to be essentially toothless in a regulatory sense. The result is so modest and so weakened by caveats that a cynic might conclude it’s little more than a suggestion.

Even then, it’s worth adoption by the commission. The “suggestion” is reasonable: When the invasive industrial activities of energy development move into “extraordinary places,” do it right. Be careful. Do no harm, or as little harm as possible. Be acutely aware that on these special landscapes, North Dakotans insist values in addition to drilling and oil pad roads be afforded more consideration.

The dishonesty of the proposal’s opponents extends to the “property rights” canard. They insist property rights are threatened. Not true. Stenehjem has said often and in easy- to-understand language that no aspect of legal property rights is at risk from “extraordinary places.” Yet, allegedly responsible organizations – grazing associations, the North Dakota Farm Bureau, and the usually fair-minded North Dakota Chamber – are on the misrepresentation bandwagon.

If the Industrial Commission won’t adopt as public policy an unenforceable suggestion that extraordinary places should be protected, then radical critics of energy development will have ammunition to push for draconian measures that could be imposed via the ballot box. The conservation amendment working its way toward the November ballot, while not radical, is a warning of growing unease about what is happening in the west.

North Dakotans don’t want to stop or undermine oil and gas development. They just want it done right – done with the care implied in the “extraordinary places” initiative. It embodies a traditional common-sense value that is getting thrown under an Oil Patch truck these days.

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