JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — A Simple Request To The Governor: Let’s Get Technical

Dear Gov. Burgum,

I am writing to you today about transparency. Transparency in government. Transparency in North Dakota government. Transparency in North Dakota government as it relates to our environment and environmental protection. You’ve said often you believe in transparency. Here’s a chance to prove it.

You’re a new governor this year, and you come from the world of high technology. You’ve got a couple of agencies that are operating at low technology. I’d like you to get them fixed. Because I’m not sure they aren’t trying to hide something from us by keeping their technology low. So I’m making two requests, Governor, to do a little technology upgrade.

The first is at the State Health Department. My friend, Darrell Dorgan, has been regularly critical of them for being too interested in the welfare of industry (read: Big Oil), at the expense of the environment. If you look at some of the stuff they do, you might think that’s the case. I’ve thought for a long time there are good people there who were being leaned on by Govs. Hoeven and Dalrymple to be friendly to Big Oil because that industry, with its boom, was punching their meal tickets during much of their administrations.

The jury’s still out on you, Doug Burgum. Will you let this agency operate as it should? Officially, they are our state’s representatives and enforcers for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, charged with enforcing federal and state environmental regulations. But those regulations sometimes get in the way of the oil industry, and Hoeven and Dalrymple didn’t like that. I don’t know about you yet, Governor. You’re of their political party, but I don’t know if you’re of their ilk. I’ll know better if you respond to my two technology upgrade requests.

Here’s the first one.

The Health Department maintains a website database of what they call “Oilfield Environmental Incidents” in the oil patch. That’s bureaucratese for “spills.” It’s a big database, with records of more than 10,500 spills since Jan. 1, 2008. Quick math — an average of a little over a thousand spills a year for the last 10 years. Here’s the link to the website, so you can take a look for yourself.

If you go there, you’ll see a menu that lets you click on spills in the past 12 months, or spills occurring before that. If you go to one of those databases, you can click on the categories at the top, like the amount of oil spilled in each incident, or the amount of saltwater spilled, from the biggest spills to the smallest (you might have to click twice — they’re pretty cagey). You can click on the county link and find out how many of those incidents occurred in Billings County, or Williams County.

But what you can’t find out is how many of those spills were committed by a particular company. Because there’s no category for that. In order to find out who committed each spill, you have to click on every one of the 10,500 incident reports to find out what company is responsible for each spill.

I know from experience, for example, that there are a couple of companies, Oasis and Denbury, which have been particularly bad violators. In fact, I once wrote on this blog that it was time to kick Denbury out of the state because it was so bad and careless. That was four years ago — Denbury is still here. Its most recent spill was Oct. 5 of this year, when oil and saltwater spilled onto a pasture near Bowman. Denbury still shows up in the database on a pretty regular basis. But you have to look at every incident report to find it. Eight hundred twenty-three incidents this year. So far.

The thing is, there’s really no way of knowing, without looking at all 10,000 incident reports, who the really bad operators are. And that’s the way the industry wants it. Finding out that Denbury or Oasis or Continental (seems to be the most recent bad company) has a hundred or 200 or more spills would just not be good publicity.

And the Health Department has acquiesced to their wishes. Or, more likely, someone in Gov. Hoeven or Gov. Dalrymple’s offices had sent word down to just leave that database the way it is. I talked off the record to a Health Department employee about a year ago and asked about this. He told me they wanted to fix it, and were going to ask for money from the Legislature in 2017 to make the database searchable. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

But now we’ve got a new governor, and he’s a techie! I bet, Governor, if you sent one of your former Microsoft programmers over to the Health Department, they could make that database searchable in 15 minutes. If that’s something you wanted done.

So that’s my first request, Gov. Burgum. Send someone to the Health Department and fix that database. They’re right over there on the second floor of the Judicial Wing of the Capitol Building. Heck, I bet they wouldn’t even have to go over there — they could probably do it from your office. Or from home.

So next time I write a story reporting that Belle Fourche Pipeline Co. is still trying to clean up its 175,000 gallon spill into Ash Coulee Creek last December, I can also find out how many other spills it made since then. Oops, bad example. That one’s not in the database.

See, sometimes whoever happens to be in charge at the moment in the Health Department will, instead of creating an incident report in the oilfield spills database for a particularly egregious spill, like the Ash Coulee one last winter, they’ll instead put it over into a DIFFERENT database, called “General Environmental Incidents.”

I’ve never been able to figure out why they did that for Ash Coulee because it was surely an “Oilfield Environmental Incident,” just like the one by Tesoro a couple of years ago, which spilled 20,600 barrels — 865,000 gallons — up in Mountrail County. The only thing I can figure out is that Tesoro only reported it spilled 750 barrels, so it got listed as an oilfield incident, until a Health Department official discovered two months later that it was really more than 20,000 barrels. Oops. I guess 750 barrel spills get logged in as oilfield incidents, and spills like the Ash Coulee one, at 4,200 barrels, don’t.

It sure is harder to keep track of those things when you have to look through different databases. Oh, yeah. I get it.

Anyway, Gov. Burgum, please put your programmer to work. Oh, and there’s one more thing I’d like you to take care of, while you’ve got your programmer available. That’s over at the State Water Commission website.

Since you’ve just signed a bill allowing industrial use of water from the Little Missouri State Scenic River (if you haven’t already done so, you could read Amy Dalrymple’s (no relation to Jack) story about this in the Bismarck Tribune by clicking here), and because there are a lot of us who love that river and are concerned about it, we would kind of like to be able to keep track of how many water permits are being issued to take fracking water from the river, and where they are, and how much water they are taking.

Well, the Water Commission, like the Health Department, also maintains a database on its website, called “Water Permits Database” (you can find it here — down toward the bottom of the page), and, in theory, you could get that information from that database. Except you can’t. Because those water permits are not in the database. I know because I know some of the people and companies who have been issued water permits, and they are not in the database.

Oh, the Water Commission does have a double-secret way to find out who has industrial water permits, but you have to be a pretty good detective to find it. Well, I did a little detective work, with some urging from Jan Swenson, executive director of Badlands Conservation Alliance, who kept telling me, “They don’t put it in the database, but it’s on the site, you just have to learn how to use the maps.”

Learn how to use the maps. Old dog, new trick. But I did it. It took me a few hours because it is well-hidden, so if you are nosy like me, I’m just going to give you a direct link (sort of) to go and look. Click here, and then go down to the bottom of the page and click on the artwork that says “Water Depots.” (Don’t click on the link that says Water Permits — you won’t find all the Little Missouri water permits there — only some of them.)

Once you’ve clicked on Water Depots, you have to figure out how to use the maps and the embedded database in them. First, you take a tutorial and learn to click on the little bar on the side of the page that says, “Show layers,” and then about half an hour or so later, you’ll find, for example, that a company named Streamline Water Services LLC has a permit to draw 233 million gallons of water (yes, you read that right) from the Little Missouri State Scenic River, on land owned by a rancher named Joe Schettler, between last December and next August. Your state engineer, Governor, has authorized one company to take more than 200 million gallons of water from the Little Missouri State Scenic River. Is there even that much water in the river, ever? Geez.

Joe Schettler’s Water Depot, in the center of the photo, hard against the Little Missouri State Scenic River at the top of the photo, courtesy of Google Earth. From here, the big trucks take water to the fracking sites.
Joe Schettler’s Water Depot, in the center of the photo, hard against the Little Missouri State Scenic River at the top of the photo, courtesy of Google Earth. From here, the big trucks take water to the fracking sites.

Streamline has built a big water depot on Schettler’s land, alongside the Little Missouri. Joe also just happens to be Dunn County’s representative on the Little Missouri State Scenic River Commission. I’m not sure if Schettler is a partner in the company, but one way or another, he’s making a lot of money from that water, which he gets pretty much for free — I think the water permit costs a couple hundred dollars.

But anyway, back to matters at hand. It would be pretty easy, Governor, for your Microsoft programmer to run those permits hidden on the map pages into the Water Permit Database, so we could keep track of them, instead of having to wander around that incredibly confusing map system. (I’m guessing, by the way, that the engineers over at the Water Commission are pretty disappointed that an English major like me could figure out how to get this information.)

So that’s my second request, Governor. As soon as you’ve got that Health Department database cleaned up, how about fixing the Water Commission database, too?

Thanks, in advance.

Jim

RON SCHALOW: Port Whine, Part 1

I’m not sure how many days since Rob Port, famed columnist, political pundit and radio personality was featured on the Forum’s front page, but I’m still blind in my left eye.

Seriously, I was a little startled to see Port’s mug on the front page of the Fargo Forum, for more reasons than one. Port’s visage always makes me jump, especially the screen-filled face shot they use on the Forum webpage. His pupils are the size of half-dollars and not evenly spaced, which is disconcerting.

I also wasn’t prepared to read a minihagiography of an employee of less than two years. The professional lying scold has hit the big time now. We’ll skip my third thought.

“Now I say that when I write something that’s a fact, it’s a fact, because I check them out and am convinced that it’s fact. I also put in some opinion and people may disagree with the conclusions that I draw but I think that the one thing even most of my critics and maybe detractors will agree upon is that if I say something is a fact, it’s a fact.” Lots of baloney in that paragraph.
My father spent 25 years as a real journalist and never became the story until he retired. It never occurred to him that he should be. They also have real journalists, real columnists, real writers and real editors — many of them fond of punctuation and spelling — at Forum Communications, but I don’t know any of their life stories. I know that most of them like commas, though.

Port referred to Bismarck attorney and former agriculture commissioner Sarah Vogel as a retread and doddering. Both assertions were LIES. I wrote in an letter-to-the-editor, that Vogel could probably tip Port over with one hand.

So, what’s my real problem? Port gored my ox, and he just laughed it off. I found that annoying. I never become unannoyed. I didn’t even know this clown until he poked me in both eyes. Then, Port bravely blocked me from commenting on his blog, his blog’s Facebook page and his Twitter account. I’m not sure if my emails get through. I don’t think he liked being called a liar, and he had no response that wasn’t another lie, so he stuck a couple of sausage-sized finger in his ears. The BS front-page article was the last straw.

“While I have no doubt that marijuana does have some medicinal uses, those uses are pretty narrow and would only benefit a sliver of the population.” What a crock.

So I started reading his archive of gems and began following Port’s blog. Was this how the young lad operated on a regular basis? The answer was yes. He starts with a premise and then uses every deceitful rhetorical device in the book, including lying, to prove his point, or whatever he was indoctrinated to believe. Some days, I can pretty much guess who/what topic the hack is going to choose on a given day, and his take. Smearing individuals, or groups, is a noxious specialty of the weasel.

“What proponents of indiscriminate enrollment growth  people like Bresciani (NDSU President) want is a race to the bottom.” There are two lies in that statement.

Then, I alerted the other lib#$%@ Marxist commie snowflake cucks that I knew at the time and got scolded for reading Port’s Sayanythingblog at all. I thought he should be called out for his lies. Nope, they said. He makes money with every click, I was told. And if we don’t go to the blog, he’ll go away. How did that work out? He failed up. Plus, he wasn’t surviving on click-through Amazon ads. Now, he has been normalized by the largest media organization in the state.

“So why then should we have a law forcing a graphic designer to create a pro-gay logo for a homosexual congregation in Fargo?” LIE. St. Mark’s is not a homosexual congregation; it is a Lutheran Church.
I’m not going to rehash Port’s history of professional propagandizing. Real journalists, like Jim Fuglie And C.S. Hagen already did it .

A Short (Well, Sort Of) Introduction To The Koch Brothers Influence In North Dakota

FOURTH ESTATE FOR SALE

It’s hard to be humble

“I think the folks at FCC brought me on because they recognize that I am a talented and well-connected opinion reporter with a lengthy track record of producing solid analysis and breaking news.”

“I even get them, even though I would argue that in my 13th year of writing about North Dakota politics I’m probably one of the most consequential reporters/commentators in the state.”

“(I’m) not just any blogger. (I’m) One who is widely respected around the state, and writes for a large audience”
“Who is Ron Schalow? He’s a 9/11 truther for one.” FALSE.

Did Forum Communications not vet this joker before taking him on? Does the veracity of their writers not matter? Or is it a feature that Port has no ethical boundaries? So why? I sure don’t know. Why do grown men dive over rows of bleachers for a $4 baseball? Why does Kevin Cramer hate white pantsuits?
Port won Native American Stereotype of the Month honors for this bull$#!*

Anyway, the Forum decided to do a puff piece on Port. I’m going to guess that Port’s numbers need some boosting, which were never as big as Port likes to boast, anyway. Either he doesn’t know the difference between a visitor and a unique visitor, or he’s hoping that none of his readers do. The Forum knows. Advertisers know, and they know which demographics are consumers. Complaints about having an amatuer on staff must be piling up, too. I’ve never claimed to be Hemingway, but Port never gets better as a writer.

Port has such a lengthy history of deceit that only a fraction can be noted here, and I doubt a book would be a big seller. A few specks will have to do.

The Big Smear

In one of the most despicable, sleazy, twisted, Portlike smears I’ve ever seen, Port took offense, for some reason, at an effing letter-to-the-editor in the Grand Forks Herald by Heidi Czerwiec. I use her name because she has personally written on the mob maelstrom Port set upon her. She was the perfect target. A liberal arts college academic and a woman. Port is not unaware of the hatred the alt-right has for education, higher-ed, pointy headed professor’s, poetry, females and anyone who might use less than glowing language about guns.

“On March 21, the story was written up on the Say Anything Blog, a local right-wing outlet, which condemned Dr. Czerwiec’s “overall paranoid attitude.” At 12:47 p.m. the next day, the story — linking to the Say Anything Blog — was reported by Campus Reform, a project of the conservative Leadership Institute that counts Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed and Karl Rove among its alums. By the end of the day, Fox News had republished Campus Reform’s piece, and Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller had published an article, also linking to the Say Anything Blog.

At 8:50 the next morning, Glenn Beck’s The Blaze had a piece up about the controversy, as did the conservative Washington Times (which linked to Campus Reform) as well as Alex Jones’ Infowars with “Paranoid Anti-Gun Professors Calls 9-1-1 Terrified By ROTC Exercises,” where a commenter added Czerwiec’s campus email and office phone.” — Attack on Academia

Port went to the well four times, on, I repeat, an effing letter-to-the-editor, because it was a ratings winner, misleading all the way. And all of the losers circled in like vultures to enter crude comments below each post. Forum Communications has a code of conduct for commenters on their Facebook pages, but anything goes on the FCC owned Sayanythingblog. And Port has an Algonquin Roundtable of howler monkeys to guard SAB’s comment section from sanity, and try run off anyone that might disagree with the mob.
“Maybe a better strategy for UND would be to hire professors who function as adults.” The smarm oozes from Port’s fingers. The joke is on him, though. Dr. Czerwiec’s family had already chosen to follow other opportunities before the school year even started. She still has a doctorate, and a good job, while Port will always be a moron, renting from his parents.

DAPL
The state led Port around by nose during the DAPL protest. He claims that the government can’t do anything right, but he played the stenographer for the state of North Dakota and law enforcement, without fact checking what he was publishing for months. Nonwhites get the clicks. He detests Native Americans and loves oil tycoons, more than he hates government, it appears.

When a young lady nearly had her arm blown off, during spray the crowd with cold water night on the bridge, alarm bells sounded, the spin was written, and it was, “Oh my, who is the most gullible typist in North Dakota?”
“How can we get this story out? Rob Port?” Maj. Amber Balken, a public information officer with the North Dakota National Guard, said. “This is a must report.”

Cecily Fong, a public information officer with the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, replied saying she would “get with” the blogger for wider dissemination.” — HPR
Port didn’t even know that TigerSwan was in charge, so he doesn’t know if half of what he wrote was true. The paramilitary mercenaries spied, infiltrated, instigated, screwed with the signals of electronics, concocted falsehoods and fed the truffles to Rob.

His excuse; “Was there anyone operating under the impression that this “wasn’t” happening?”
Evidently Port was operating cluelessly because he kept on buying whatever was slipped into his burrow. Or maybe he knew. Either way, no reputable newspaper operation would put up with such shenanigans.

“Communication between the various agencies attempts to paint the activists known as water protectors as criminals, out of state troublemakers, and sexual deviants, a theme widely reported by the state’s media, particularly on the Forum Communication Company’s right-wing editorialist Say Anything Blog, managed by Port.” — HPR
If anything remotely criminal happened within a hundred miles of Cannon Ball, the Portweasel let innuendo do the talking. He does love his innuendo. OMG! Thirty cattle are missing! Oops, never mind. They were hiding behind that elm tree.

Now, we find out that “the firms Delve and Off the Record Strategies, apparently working on contract with the National Sheriffs’ Association, worked in secret on talking points, media outreach and communications training for law enforcement dealing with Dakota Access opponents mobilized at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.”

“Pfeifle (Mark. Off the Record Strategies) agreed in his email and suggested following the press conference with outreach to friendly media outlets to amplify the message.”

“One of those outlets was the Say Anything Blog, run by Rob Port, who the next day, Oct. 6, ran a blog post featuring many of the themes found in the talking points:Over 85 Percent of Arrested #NoDAPL Protesters Are From Outside of North Dakota.”

In his email, Pfeifle had suggested reaching out to Port, who also hosts a radio show on WDAY AM-970 and regularly wrote blog posts in support of Dakota Access during the Standing Rock standoff. When Port’s piece went online, Pfeifle wrote an email that same day to the Delve team, sheriffs’ association staff, Hushka, and others asking an association staffer to share the piece on social media.”

These are the same characters who helped G.W. Bush rationalize the Iraq war. Was Port once again clueless, or was he in cahoots?

Oil

Big oil loves Rob, and Rob loves them back. He just so happens to have the same opinions as the North Dakota Petroleum Council, which simplifies things, I imagine. There isn’t anything the oil industry can do, in or to, North Dakota that Port cannot — or is unwilling — to justify, including the death of people. There is no spill, no exploding train, no employee death, or human misery, that the Portweasel can’t excuse.

“Currently the North Dakota Industrial Commission is considering a draft field order for conditioning Bakken oil before shipment. The rules would not only set a target for stabilization (measured by vapor pressure) but would also dictate how the industry would go about hitting that target.” Conditioning isn’t stabilization. Port never understood that, but he just types away.

The Republicans cut taxes for oil barons in 2015, and Port has been lying about it ever since. “You cannot call it a tax cut when the net result is an increase in tax burdens.”

“Remember over the last few years when the enemies of oil development were hyping oil train derailments?” Nope. Because nobody was hyping anything. News outlets were reporting on the explosions, which seemed normal, since they were danger to public safety. Another thing Port doesn’t understand, so he made it up.

In 2015, the fatality rates in the Bakken were nearly seven times as high as other oil fields in the rest of America, but Port wasn’t having anything to do with those facts. “Yes, worker deaths have increased over those years, but so has oil activity.” He didn’t mention the comparison to other oil plays. Lying by omission and a lame excuse. Poor hiring, poor training, poor management, ignoring the rules, lack of proper equipment, hurry, and asking workers do dangerous things past normal procedures, are the usual culprits, when there is an excess of injuries and deaths. The workers aren’t Port’s concern.

“Left-wing activists have taken to using the term “bomb trains” and are now blaming public officials for not seeking regulatory retribution for the derailments from the oil industry.” The term “bomb trains” was coined by those in the industry, who knew what was getting poured into Bakken tanker cars, and public officials are there, supposedly, to protect the public. They’ve decided not to.

Time to call them Obama trains,” blared Port’s headline. He links to an article that says that Obama dropped the ball on stabilization, which he did, deciding to trust North Dakota to do the right thing, which was stupid.

The Obama administration weighed national standards to control explosive gas in oil trains last year but rejected the move, deciding instead to leave new rules to North Dakota alone. — Reuters

What Port was likely too dense to figure out, or remember, was mocking me for demanding that the state do exactly what he was now faulting Obama for not doing. (The comment section below this post looks odd because I was blocked, and my gentle polite remarks were deleted)

“Schalow has accomplished is really nothing other than organizing a few of his fellow conspiracy mongers and cranks.” We’re so unorganized, I can’t even find the others.

“NGL’s make the oil more volatile, which makes it much easier to ignite. The NGL vapor will expand away from the toppled cars along the ground, which causes a much larger burning area. Stabilized oil does burn, but it DOESN’T “EXPLODE”. We as a country have been transporting stabilized oil by train every day since 1960, how many of these type of accidents do you remember? Without the NGL’s there is no reason to rebuild all the rail transport cars or change what we are doing.” — Myron Goforth; president of Dew Point Control LLC., Sugar Land, Texas

Port doesn’t like to mention it’s only Bakken oil trains that have exploded, (because Bakken crude is not stabilized) how many have blown up, or how many people have died. He doesn’t get upset because they detonate, but because news media notices the 300 foot fireballs and tells everyone.

“… activists have taken to mapping the “blast zones” around railroad tracks, and claim that 25 million Americans live in them.” Because it’s true, and you would think the government would show such concern. We have signs for everything else.

And Rob is just so darn proud of anything flaring. “And when (Amy) Dalrymlpe(sp) does get around to mentioning declines in gas flaring, she puts it in the context of an industry spokesman exaggerating a bit.

Isn’t a 24 percent reduction in the volume of gas flared over the last two years news? It seems like news to me.”

Burgum

Doug Burgum played Port like a jukebox throughout his campaign for governor. Burgum would invite him into his office, and Port glowed. He asked Port for advice, and Port’s ego grew even larger. Then, Burgum would do something that Port didn’t like, such as wearing a cowboy hat (beats me), and there would be three days of debate on whether the future governor was an actual cowboy. It was fun to watch the Minot High trained Port give advice to a guy that knows Bill Gates, and thousands of actual smart people.

It’s the Wind Dude

“Over the last couple of weeks, we North Dakotans, forced to celebrate the anniversary of our nation’s independence through a smoky haze blown down from Canadian wildfires, were left appreciating our state’s normally pristine air quality. That’s because it disappeared on us, at least temporarily.

After decades of coal development and a more recent uptick in oil-related industrial activity in western North Dakota — including more flaring of natural gas than anybody is happy about — it took the tragic wildfires our northern neighbors are grappling with to foul our air.”


Identity politics Port-style

According to Port, unless the political candidate is snow white, male and straight, identity politics are at play.

“And while I detest identity politics, there’s no questioning that it is a factor in how people cast their ballots. Having a woman on the ticket is going to increase Burgum’s appeal among a pretty large demographic of voters. People should vote based on things like gender or skin color, but they do.”

“Per Nowtazki’s(sp) article, Democrats acknowledge having put at least some effort into recruiting Native American candidates, and we’ll in November how that works for them politically. Identity politics are an ugly reality in American politics, but a reality none-the-less.”

“Finally, identity politics do matter. Many on the right are convinced that Rep. Oversen only got her appointment because she is young and female. “

“Particularly hilarious is state Rep. Kyle(sp) Oversen — titular chairwoman for the North Dakota Democrats and a not-yet-graduated law student — lecturing Senator John Hoeven over his call for Obama to refrain from nominating a candidate to replace Scalia.”

He has a particular animus for Kylie Oversen, second only to his hostility towards Senator Heitkamp.

He doesn’t like college students

This is standard language for the alt-right, and Port is probably extra angry because he couldn’t hack the college thing. He often cherry picks an anecdote that fits his narrative, then ascribes whatever irks him to a whole group.

“If this generation of college-aged toddlers want to shirk their responsibilities to pay for their debts and tolerate diverse opinions, then perhaps we should acknowledge that they are, in fact, children and treat them as such..”

“This is the social media generation, after all, which gets its news from smirking comedians and internet memes.”

“Millions upon millions of American students attend university as a way to prolong the high school experience and postpone adulthood.”

Coming in Port Whine, Part 2

Pipelines, science denial, hate crime denial, discrimination denial, Kevin Cramer, Heidi Heitkamp, Trump, e-cigarettes, Trumpcare, Bresciani, NDSU football, Michelle Obama, and more …

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The Little Missouri State Scenic River Is In Trouble Again

North Dakota’s Little Missouri State Scenic River lost most of its scenic protection this week when Gov. Doug Burgum reversed course and joined the members of his State Water Commission in opening the entire river to industrial water development.

Last month, Burgum declared upstream areas of the state’s only official State Scenic River — the areas surrounding the three units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park — off-limits to industrial water use and told State Engineer Garland Erbele to “immediately review, modify and make transparent the process and requirements for any future issuance of temporary use permits for nonagricultural uses.” Read: Permits for fracking water.

That came after it was revealed that the Water Commission staff had issued more than 600 illegal industrial water permits and then had state law changed in the waning days of the 2017 Legislature to make such permits legal. The Little Missouri State Scenic River Act, passed by the 1975 Legislature, prohibited the use of Little Missouri water for industrial purposes. The bill passed this year changed that.

Friends of the river urged Burgum to veto the legislation, but he declined, instead issuing his policy of only allowing those permits downstream of the National Park.

In issuing that policy, Burgum said in a letter to me and others:

“As governor, a North Dakota resident and a property owner on the Little Missouri River, protecting our environment and being responsible stewards of our natural resources is a priority for me personally and for our administration.”

Well, so much for “being responsible stewards.” Thursday’s action by the Water Commission took care of that.

Erbele did his “review” and came up with a recommendation 180 degrees from Burgum’s policy, opening up the entire Little Missouri State Scenic River basin to industrial use.

And in a puzzling move, the governor then took that recommendation to the Water Commission this week, instead of acting on it himself, as he had done in declaring his earlier policy.

Even more puzzling, the governor did not question the policy recommendation, and voted to implement it, opening up the entire river to industrial development and leaving friends of the river shaking their heads in wonder — and anger — at his inconsistency.

Now, I suspect that the governor, if questioned, would say he wanted broader input on the policy — input from his State Water Commission members. But the Water Commission only heard one side of the story — the oil industry’s side — at Thursday’s meeting. Opponents of the policy, who wanted to keep industrial development away from our State Scenic River and from the National Park, were not given a chance to speak to the issue.

Several of those opponents sat through Thursday’s marathon session for five hours, waiting for a discussion of the Little Missouri State Scenic River Act, as promised on the Commission’s agenda. But they were caught off guard when a Water Commission staff member presented a recommendation from a list of four options — the three that were not adopted offered some protection for the river — and the Commission adopted the one opening up the river for development after a brief discussion. Only Agriculture Commissioner Douglas Goehring voted against the recommendation, citing concerns over industrial use trumping the needs of farmers and ranchers for irrigation.

I was among those who thought it unusual for a major new state policy to be adopted by an important state agency without any public discussion or any chance for making a case against the policy before a vote was taken. But then, if we can adopt a national health care policy written behind closed doors, I suppose nothing surprises any more.

There was some discussion among Commission members before the vote. Commissioner Harley Swenson of Bismarck questioned the urgency of adopting the policy, given low water levels in the Little Missouri this year and pointing out that there were another 1,000 wells awaiting fracking right now, and perhaps wells along the river could wait until there is more water available and the list of wells awaiting fracking shrinks.

But Commissioner Larry Hanson, also of Bismarck, jumped in on behalf of the oil industry, saying that if they don’t get the water out of the Little Missouri, it’s a “long haul” to have it brought in from somewhere else. Old, white –haired, mostly bald heads around the table nodded in assent, and a vote was taken quickly then to approve the policy.

I point out the white-haired, mostly bald heads because the Water Commission is — or should be — an embarrassment to North Dakota government. All seven appointees to the board are old white males, many well into their 70s, at least one 80. To be fair, all were appointed by governors other than Burgum, and Burgum let four of them go after Thursday’s meeting, opening up their spots to new members he will appoint later this summer. Maybe some women? Maybe some under 70?

In another disappointing moment in the meeting, Burgum made a lame argument about the sequence of events leading up to the change in the law and Thursday’s adoption of a new policy. The illegal permits issued for industrial use had been going on “for decades,” Burgum said, and when a staff member discovered it, they quickly stopped doing it.

“There was no cover-up,” Burgum said. They admitted what they did was wrong, he went on, and brought it to the attention of the Legislature, which fixed the law to make those permits legal now.

Yeah, well, the governor was blowing smoke. Here’s what really happened. More than a year ago, I wrote an article for my blog and for Dakota Country magazine about the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission. During this year’s Legislative Session, a friend of mine, who had read the blog, told me he had heard a mention of the Scenic River Commission on the floor of the Legislature. I went looking, and sure enough, there was an amendment to the State Water Commission budget bill changing the law to allow industrial use of water from the Little Missouri State Scenic River, which had been prohibited since 1975.

I called the Water Commission, got a couple of the staff responsible for issuing water permits on the phone and asked what they were up to. They told me that they never knew about the law, in spite of working there for decades, and that one of their staff had read my story and brought the law to their attention, so they were getting it changed. I asked if they had issued any industrial permits to take water for the oil industry from the river, and one of them blurted out, “Yeah, more than 600.”  I’m guessing those two wished they had been a little more circumspect — I doubt they had told the Legislature that, when they asked to change the law — but it was too late. The cat was out of the bag.

So I wrote a story about it, and, when the bill passed the Legislature, a whole lot of people put heat on the governor to veto it. He didn’t, but he wrote the policy I mentioned earlier about keeping the industrial permits away from the section of the river near the National Park, the policy which was overturned Thursday with the governor’s blessing.

So what’s next?

Right now, the Water Commission staff said Thursday, there are four industrial water permit applications pending, asking for water for oil well fracking from the Little Missouri. I looked them up on the Water Commission’s website. All are between the North and South Units of the National Park, one just a couple of miles from the Elkhorn Ranch. One has asked to start pumping water immediately, one Sept. 1, and two Nov. 1. The permits, once approved, are good for only 12 months, so I’d guess they will be pretty eager to get going.

The oil companies have negotiated what I suspect is a pretty sizeable fee with the ranchers for access to the river on their land and building some kind of water depot into which they’ll pump the water. And then the water trucks — as many as a thousand trucks for each well — will thunder down the hill to the depot and load up and take their water to the well that needs fracking. At least I think that is how it works. I asked the Water Commission today what their intentions are for those four permit applications. Here’s the response:

“They all are in pending status. Based on the decision of the State Water Commission yesterday, they are eligible to be reviewed for approval. If approved conditions will be applied similar to the temporary industrial permits that have been issued downstream of the Long-X bridge. A threshold and maximum pumping rate will be developed for this reach of the river based on the Medora gage.” 

Well, I don’t suppose they’ll be pumping much water from the river right now if they are approved — which they could be. Right now, about noon on June 23, 2017, the river gauge at Medora shows there are just over 3 cubic feet per second (cfs) flowing through Medora. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, which maintains the gauges and keeps the records, that’s the lowest flow for this date in the 60 year history of keeping records on the river. The previous low was just under 8 feet in 2004, and the mean flow is 1150 cfs. In other words, the river is just about dead in its tracks. A severe drought, like the one we’re in right now, will do that. But if it rains …

I’m going to send this article to the governor to let him know how unhappy I am with him. He’s the only one who can protect the Little Missouri State Scenic River valley right now. It wouldn’t hurt if he heard from a few more people, too. It’s pretty easy. Just click here. 

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Our Rich Heritage; Our National Park

Here’s a short follow-up to a story I did a couple of weeks ago about the proposed Davis Refinery, the big industrial plant the California company Meridian Energy wants to build next to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

You’ll recall the North Dakota Department of Health sent Meridian a letter a month ago questioning some of the emissions projections Meridian used in its application for an air quality permit. NDDOH sad it was stopping its review of the application until Meridian provided more information about that.

Health Department Air Quality Division Director Terry O’Clair listed a number of specific concerns the Department had with the projected emissions numbers, and then concluded his letter with this:

“Given the information provided in the application, more detailed information must be provided prior to the Department continuing its review of the application. For a Facility of this size, in this industry, and at this proposed location, the refinery should be designed according to health, safety, economics, and operability. After a thorough design is completed, emissions should then be estimated based on the actual equipment/operations included in the design. This will provide added assurance regarding projected emissions from the facility. This assurance is vital given the location of the facility …”

“After a thorough design is completed.”Well, that seems to make sense. Design your refinery, and then, based on that design, give us your estimates. Absent that, NDDOH would be approving something based on blue sky, not science.

So this week, Meridian responded to O’ Clair’s concerns in a 13-page, single-spaced letter with 90 pages of attachments, refuting every concern O’Clair listed and accusing the Department of using outdated information as the basis for stopping the review of the application until Meridian provided better information (read: real numbers based on real equipment and an actual design).

And then Tom Williams, vice president of Permitting and Planning at Meridian, concluded his 13-page letter with this:

“In closing, Meridian believes that this letter confirms the emissions estimates submitted in the April PTC Application Amendment. Thus, Meridian believes this submittal fully addresses the items brought up in NDDOH’s letter dated May 15, and does so at a level of detail that is technically and legally justified (Note: there’s that “legally” thing again). Meridian therefore requests that the NDDOH accept and approve our emissions inventory and that NDDOH moves forward in making a full determination of completeness of Meridian’s Davis Refinery PTC application documents.”

The arrogance of these people just takes my breath away. It’s not enough that they want to build an oil refinery next door to a national park, but they want it done RIGHT GODDAM NOW! They don’t seem to understand that for most of us it is not just about how many emissions they make next to the park, it is the fact that they are making ANY emissions next to the park.

They also don’t seem to have read Terry O’Clair’s letter very carefully: “After a thorough design is completed.” Twice in his letter, Meridians Williams confirms that the design is not complete.

Responding to O’Clair’s concern about possible leaks from the facility, Williams writes that such information requires “a level of design that is not available at this stage of the project nor would it typically be available until overall plant design is essentially complete.”

And later he writes, “In summary, based on anticipated actual design and size of facility, Meridian anticipates the final component numbers will be at least 20 percent lower than the ‘model’ counts used in the EPA guidance document which were utilized in the current emissions estimates.”

In other words, North Dakota Department of Health, “Just trust us.”

Well, excuse me, Mr. Williams, but what part of “After a thorough design is completed” don’t you understand?

I asked the folks at the Health Department what happens next. Will they resume the review of the application, based on the 13-page letter and the 90 pages of attachments? Well, no.

First they will review the 13-page letter and the 90 pages of attachments. That’ll take a few weeks. Then they will decide whether they believe Meridian’s numbers, absent a completed design. If so they will begin reviewing the whole application. That’ll take months. If not, they’ll send another letter to Meridian, reminding them that they want the numbers based on a completed design, not speculation.

What about Meridian’s claim that the Health Department used outdated information? The Health Department will take a look at that. A Department spokesman said the scientists there are “pretty up to date on those things.”

But, you know, this whole thing should boil down to more than just numbers. It really shouldn’t matter if particulates in the air are 20 or 30 or 50 parts per million. There shouldn’t be any particulates in the air next to a national park. There should not be a giant plume of steam and gases causing not just chemical pollution, but visual pollution, next to a national park.

There should not be hundreds of oil trucks a day kicking up giant clouds of dust heading into a refinery to dump their loads. What does all that say about a state that would allow that to happen? What kind of message is North Dakota sending, that we care so little about a park named after, and dedicated to, the greatest conservation president ever, that we would allow that to happen?

North Dakotans are vest button-popping proud of their national park and justifiably so. The Bad Lands of the Little Missouri are our most cherished landscape, but if you read your park history, you know that we would not have that national park had not Roosevelt lived and ranched here as a young man. It’s his conservation legacy that got us a national park, and we need to defend and protect that legacy until our dying breaths.

No, it’s about more than the numbers. Our state’s leaders need to sit that California company’s executives down, look them in the eye, and say “Listen, assholes, move that damn refinery somewhere else. You don’t need to put it beside our national park.” Or something like that.

Gov. Art Link.
Gov. Art Link.

Today’s leaders need to remember the words of Gov. Art Link because right here, right now, they apply as much as they did in the 1970s:

“We do not want to halt progress; we do not plan to be selfish and say North Dakota will not share its energy resources. We simply want to ensure the most efficient and environmentally sound method of utilizing our precious coal and water resources for the benefit of the broadest number of people possible.”

Gov. Doug Burgum. Let’s hope the resemblance is more than just physical.
Gov. Doug Burgum. Let’s hope the resemblance is more than just physical.

“And when we are through with that and the landscape is quiet again, when the draglines, the blasting rigs, the power shovels and the huge gondolas cease to rip and roar and when the last bulldozer has pushed the spoil pile into place and the last patch of barren earth has been seeded to grass or grain, let those who follow and repopulate the land be able to say, our grandparents did their job well. The land is as good and in some cases, better than before.

“Only if they can say this, will we be worthy of the rich heritage of our land and its resources.”

Our rich heritage. Our national park. Are you listening, Gov. Doug Burgum?

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Act Today To Protect The Little Missouri State Scenic River

There are two or three days left in the legislative session. A lot of bad things are going to happen to North Dakota in that short period of time. I’ve been watching every legislative session since 1975, and this one is by far the most irresponsible I’ve seen.

One of the worst things that could happen this week is the industrialization of the Little Missouri State Scenic River. I wrote about this last week. I won’t go back into it here. Instead, I’m asking you to help stop something bad from happening.

Below is an email I sent to Gov. Doug  Burgum this morning. In it, I am asking him to instruct his state engineer to withdraw the amendment to the Little Missouri Scenic River Act that he has requested in House bill 1020. You can read it here. It is on page 8, about halfway down the page. The words “temporary use,” which they are adding to the Act, are code words for Industrial Water Permits. The Water Commission’s own engineers told me that last week.

Please consider emailing Gov. Burgum by going to this link on his web page and ask him to have his state engineer withdraw his request for changes to the Little Missouri State Scenic River Act in HB1020. Please do it today. Tomorrow is probably too late. Thank you for your help.

Here’s the email I sent this morning.

Dear Gov. Burgum,

In 1975, the Legislature acted to protect the Little Missouri State Scenic River (its full and appropriate title) from industrial development by passing the Little Missouri State Scenic River Act, now Section 61-29 of the North Dakota Century Code.  Many of my friends and I were involved in that effort to protect the Little Missouri River, as the state faced a request from Tenneco to build a coal gasification plant in western North Dakota, using water from a dam on a tributary of the Little Missouri. The act specifically said “No water for industrial use from the Little Missouri or its tributaries.” That law has withstood the test of time, except that the State Water Commission has been violating it for years by giving out illegal industrial use water permits from the Little Missouri, by their own accounting more than 600 of them, to the oil and gas industry. Now the Water Commission has asked that an amendment to 61-29 be approved to allow them to legally give out industrial water permits. They have done so in an amendment to House Bill 1020, a Water Commission appropriations bill. I am writing to ask you to instruct the State Engineer to ask the Legislature to remove that amendment from HB 1020 today. You and I both know that the Little Missouri is too valuable to be used as an industrial water source. That’s why it has been named the state’s only State Scenic River, and is the only river protected from development by state law. Please act today to preserve that law, and our precious Little Missouri State Scenic River.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Down In Front!

You bought your ticket, and you’re enjoying the show … when the big guy in front of you stands up. You can’t see around him. He’s taller than you. Larger. Louder. He’s got a lot of muscle, and his brawny friends are cheering him on. When you tell him — politely — that he’s in your way, all he does is shrug: “Tough. This is my spot, and I feel like standing.”

What do you do next?

If you’re Prairie Public Broadcasting, and the fellow blocking your view is Gov. Doug Burgum’s Kilbourne Group, that’s a pretty good question.

The issue is something called air rights, a concept that rarely comes up here on our horizontal landscape. In the land where most “skyscrapers” top out at a half-dozen floors, we tend to spare scant thought for what’s overhead except when it rains during harvest.

But the next addition to Fargo’s skyline is creating a splitting headache for one of its venerable downtown neighbors, and it all comes down to who owns rights to use the air of downtown Fargo. When the Kilbourne Group’s wildly pricey and much-ballyhooed 18-story high-rise starts to loom over the east side of Broadway, it’s going to cause inadvertent pain far greater than sore necks among the flatlanders craning to admire its apex.

Gov. Burgum’s impending prairie edifice is aptly named — Block 9. It will, in fact, block Prairie Public Broadcasting’s signal. The statewide public television and radio network is housed in the American Life Building on Fifth Street North, due east of the 18-story skyscraper to be erected on the 200 block of Broadway. It shoots its microwave stream 30 miles west to its main transmitter near Wheatland, N.D. … and from there to satellite stations that cover 98 percent of North Dakota plus surrounding states and provinces.

Building a 220-foot structure right smack across the street obstructs that path through the ozone. And apparently, according to a statement from Block 9’s builders, that’s just too bad. Since Prairie Public doesn’t own the airspace over that block of Broadway, that makes it solely the public broadcaster’s problem.

Valley News Live, which broke the story last week, reached out to the Kilbourne Group for comment. This was what they heard back: “The partners involved in the Block 9 project and Prairie Public Broadcasting have met multiple times to discuss the television and radio signal tower that uses air rights that Prairie Public does not own. … We are hopeful that Prairie Public Broadcasting will find a solution that works for their organization.”

Owners are generally considered to own the rights to the space above their own buildings. Beyond that, however, they have no influence over who can put what around them. Thus, the fact that public television and radio waves have been blasted from that rooftop for 33 years — and by WDAY TV and Radio for decades before PPTV took it over — carries no special weight when a partnership of two of the region’s top-dollar developers erects its showplace right up in your face.

The big guy sitting in front of you bought his ticket fair and square. If you can’t see around him when he stands up — too bad for you.

In case you haven’t been following the stirring drama of downtown redevelopment, let’s introduce the players. First on the list: the Kilbourne Group, headed by entrepreneur Burgum. Since its first public-spirited foray — redeveloping an aging commercial building to accommodate North Dakota State University’s art and architecture departments — it has gradually acquired the lion’s share of property in downtown Fargo. It’s widely and properly credited for reviving the aging, deteriorating district, bringing vibrant, stylish life to the city center. Today, the Kilbourne Group owns 18 structures between University Drive and the river.

Playing supporting roles in the drama are RDO Equipment, TMI Hospitality and the city of Fargo itself. The $98 million high-rise — Kilbourne’s most ambitious production by far — will house 26,000 feet of retail on the ground; 99,000 square feet of offices; a 350-car parking ramp; an 88-room “European-style boutique hotel,” complete with a ballroom sized for 400 guests plus an outdoor garden for rooftop soirees; and, finally, five stories of million-dollar condominiums, like a luxe layer of glossy frosting on the ultimate prestigious cake.

Back on the ground, the broadcaster is trying to figure out how to literally get around Block 9. Three options are being explored.

One is to relocate its 100-foot monopole and microwave equipment to a site farther from the towering obstruction. Prairie Public engineers will meet with city representatives next week to talk over the most feasible location, the spot the Fargo Police Department now occupies. That possibility involves purchasing or leasing the property (or graciously accepting it as a gift from the city), along with pouring a foundation and all the structural work, plus moving and reinstalling equipment. Estimated cost: $100,000.

Option B is securing rooftop rights to mount the equipment on a taller building. The logical choice, Block 9 itself, is out of the running because of those snazzy condos on its top floors. Talks with owners of other likely candidates are, shall we say, up in the air. The city’s height regulations also come into play. Cost: to be determined.

Plan C? Ferry the broadcast signal to Wheatland via Midco’s fiber optic connectivity. The cost? That’s difficult to say, partly because Midco’s fiber now ends far short of the transmitter location. A current best guess is that upfront construction costs plus ongoing line leases could reach half a million dollars over the next 10 years.

Weigh these against the one option that’ll never fly — not building Block 9 at all. Net cost: zero.

So Prairie Public Broadcasting has run into the perfect storm … and at the worst possible moment. The Republican gang in Washington, D.C., hopes to scratch out the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in its upcoming budget. The North Dakota Legislature seems poised to cut its biennial appropriation for the statewide network to less than half of what it is today. They’re even tinkering with charitable gaming, another source of PPB’s support.

PPB reaches 100,000 TV viewers and 20,000 radio listeners weekly, covering 98 percent of North Dakota plus the surrounding area. The radio audience could diminish, though, due to an unrelated tempest. Prairie Public partners with the University of North Dakota in two Grand Forks public radio stations, KUND and KFJM. UND needs to disengage from the radio business. That means Prairie Public must buy out its share of the broadcast licenses — at a cost well into six figures.

Membership — the largest element of Prairie Public’s support, contributing about 30 percent to its $8 million budget — is holding steady at about 15,000 individuals and 200 corporate sponsors. Their average gifts are growing, up 20 percent over the past decade. But they’re not nearly enough to compensate for cuts and unanticipated costs in other quarters.

These are not serene times for the nonprofit enterprise that brings a dizzying spectrum of broadcast benefits to the North Country — from priceless educational programming that enriches learning in schools and homes all over the region to programs exploring science, history, public affairs and quirky niches like the BBC’s comedies and dramas to cooking shows on Saturday morning.

Compared with the gargantuan numbers swirling around the Block 9 project, Prairie Public’s problematic digits seem rather puny. The dollars needed to cure its transmitter woes amount to barely a blip, considered on the far loftier scale of the Block 9 project … yet the cost represents a devastating body blow to the scrappy public corporation at a time when it’s coincidentally beset by threats from so many directions.

The skyscraper issue, though utterly without malice, is a disaster nevertheless.

So far, the wildly well-heeled Kilbourne Group has offered no help at all to rectify the damage they’ve unwittingly created. Let’s hope the big guy standing up in front sits down to help solve the problem.

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Mr. Bender Goes to Bismarck

It’s almost halftime at the North Dakota Legislature, so last week I went to the state Capitol to monitor progress.

I represented The Ashley Tribune and The Wishek Star as Newspapers of the Day, a program sponsored by the North Dakota Newspaper Association to foster better relations between the press and legislators. I guess I was an ambassador of good will. Because you know how lawmakers love to talk to someone who is always abusing free speech.

The Legislature is doing its very best to get a handle on all this transparency nonsense. For instance, there’s a bill supported by former Gov. Ed Schafer that would conceal the identity of applicants for government jobs until finalists are selected. Schafer said “no one” reads newspapers anymore because they are always presenting this kind of scandalous news. Knowledge upsets people. And here you are reading the newspaper. Loser.

You could conclude that since 85 percent of state voters in the last election wanted to have their local minutes published, taxpayers are interested in seeing how their government operates. I guess those are alternative facts. We should check with Landslide Donald.

I stopped by the governor’s office, but Doug Burgum wasn’t in. They were still trying to raise bail money after Gov. Burgum was dragged off the Senate floor for wearing blue jeans. The sergeant-at-arms is originally from Wishek, but he has been in Bismarck for 50 years. When you go that long without Wishek Sausage, it makes you a little cranky.

I also stopped in to see House Majority Leader Al Carlson, a frequent guest star of these columns. But he was out, too. I did get a peek at his throne — red velvet and gold encrusted with jewels. North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness was sitting in it, reading the Oil Illustrated swimsuit edition. You can’t unsee Harold Hamm in a thong. If they ever put him in the Rough Rider Hall of Fame, though, that’s the picture they should use.

There have been some remarkable achievements in the Legislature. I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit where credit is due — to the Republicans, who have a superduper majority. There are so many Republicans in Bismarck, they almost outnumber oil lobbyists.

Meanwhile, there are old-fashioned phone booths adjacent to the Senate Chambers, which is where the Democrats caucus. These meetings are open to the public. You can even wear jeans. And Birkenstocks.

Republican caucuses are held in a top-secret location off the Capitol grounds and are closed to the public. You need a password, a secret handshake and a hotdish for the potluck. Once a month, they sacrifice a virgin. Ironically, it’s always a Republican because they are the only women of virtue.

I got to hear the virtuous Sen. Janne Myrdal speak. She was wearing a chastity belt and a halo. You’ll remember Myrdal for her heroic struggle against Gay Nazis on Facebook. If you don’t fight them on Facebook, pretty soon you’ll have to fight them on Snapchat.

I also watched the Senate vote to support a bill banning masks. But what are oil executives going to wear when they are robbing North Dakotans? While Texas and Oklahoma billionaires got a 23 percent tax break last session, citizens here are facing austerity measures.

Eight rural highway maintenance shops are slated to be closed, meaning snowplows will have to travel 120 miles to clear roads in some instances. Which is reasonable, I guess, if you don’t live there. They also plan to close nine drivers license sites. You may have to drive 200 miles to get your license, but it’s not like those are “tax dollars” you pay at the pump. It should work out fine if the roads are clear.

The party that wants smaller government also voted in the Senate to grow government with the creation of  the Orwellian-sounding “Department of Environmental Quality,” which will allow a political appointee to more easily nonregulate the oil industry. A 153-page bill was approved, unread, in a 90-minute committee meeting, with no estimate of the cost of this new department. I guess they had to pass it to know what’s in it.

Republicans are defending us (and the fossil fuel industry) against wind energy. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is endorsing a two-year moratorium on wind energy development. The theory being that the free market works best without competition. Another bill would shift wind tax revenue from the counties to the state. So, the governor can afford some decent pants.

Thank goodness they’re standing up for the environment. Have you ever seen a wind spill? It’s ugly. They should ban solar energy, too. Because the sun is a leading cause of global warming.

Finally, thanks to GOP opposition to the overreach of the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s still legal to discriminate against “the gays” in North Dakota. However, you can’t just run them down in the street. Even if they are wearing a swastika. Because they could be a Trump supporter.

Compromise and moderation prevails, once again.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — An Alternative Political Universe

It has become obvious to me that Donald J. Trump is not the actual president of these United States. The resident Nazi, Steve Bannon, is. As Trump’s so-called “chief strategist,” Bannon has authored all of the executive orders relating to barring immigrants from coming into this country.

Even Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels didn’t have the powers Bannon has in the White House. To name him to the Security Council and remove the military from it suggests the kind of dictatorship not seen since Hitler.

What other administration in the history of this country has named an official propaganda news outlet, Fox News, its official voice? Never mind facts; they aren’t important to Fox.

It’s hard to keep up with this alternative universe! The administration’s story is that we’re banning people from countries who pose the most danger to us. They list the seven bad old countries (all of which just happen to be Muslim, but it’s “not a Muslim ban”). Other Muslim countries aren’t mentioned in the ban. Using administration logic, that means the ban isn’t against Muslims, but terrorists.

In their alternative political universe, however, they apparently forgot that citizens of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon were all responsible for murdering large numbers of American citizens. I wonder why they were excluded from the ban? Could it possibly be because dishonest Donnie has financial interests in those countries — but none in the seven he named?

What has happened to Congress when it comes to enforcing our laws … including those prohibiting a president from receiving income from foreign powers? In fairness, I do think the GOP was blindsided by the dictator who they elected. I also think voters were conned by his countless lies and confused by his reversals of position.

What has El Duce Trump done to help the middle class or the so-called low-income class? Not a damn thing. What is he doing to aid the top 1 percent? Oh, tax breaks will go to those, while nothing is done to help those in need.

President Bannon (in this alternative universe) has Trump goose-stepping to his wishes, and that does not include working people. Even though the auto industry has made it clear that its recent actions in building in this country were decided long before Trump was elected, he and Bannon have no difficulty boasting the jobs were created because of them.

It’s still pretty hard to call Trump the liar he is … because he flips-flops so often that no matter what you call him on, he and his defenders can point to a different quote that says otherwise.

Kellyanne Conway, administration propaganda minister and proof that witches do exist, calls for the firing of journalists who disagree with the president (not sure which one she means, Bannon or Trump). She echoes Bannon’s pronouncement that the press should just “shut up.”

That Conway has already compared Trump to Jesus Christ puts her lockstep with the top two in this administration.

And I watch Vice President Pence, rubber-stamping his Fuhrer and joining in the crusade against those most in need.

France may well ask for the return of the Statute of Liberty, with its message to all seeking a home. But the uprising in this country will sooner or later bring matters back into balance.

The march to correct the immigrant wrong has begun. Two federal judges have ruled to halt it, and 15 different state attorneys general are preparing to litigate the unlawful presidential decree. Thousands of lawyers are joining them, as is the American Civil Liberties Union.

* * *

Speaking of balance — the North Dakota Legislature still has its fill of dictator wannabes. The most recent is Rep. Jeffrey Magrum, R-Hazelton, who introduced HB 1313 to give the military the right to investigate North Dakota judges. He has obviously had a hard time removing his head from his donkey hole and does not understand there is a process in place relating to judges — one that has worked very well.

Where do these people come from? Do their constituents know what they stand for? Or are they elected because no one else wants the job?

As I write, Gov. Doug Burgum has said nothing about refugees. The gold dust twins, John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, are marching in lockstep with Trump-Bannon. Only Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has stood up for the Constitution and called for a halt to the refugee ban.

I’ve not always liked Heitkamp’s votes, but I do like and respect her as a human being, as a mother and wife and as a politician. I think she really does what she thinks is best for North Dakota. She has worked very hard for Native American citizens; her unfortunate support of the Dakota Access Pipeline should not cancel out all the good she has done for the tribes.

According to The Guardian, the American online voice of the respected London Guardian newspaper: “A spokesman for Angela Merkel said the German chancellor regretted Trump’s decision to ban citizens of certain countries from entering the U.S., adding that she had ‘explained’ the obligations of the Refugee Convention to the new president in a phone call on Saturday.”

She was, of course, referring to the Geneva Convention accord, which the U.S. signed more than 65 years ago, requiring acceptance of refugees from war-torn countries. As my friend Eddy Walstad says, she spoke v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, but it meant nothing to him.

This comes straight off Facebook, and I agree — “If the pope, Michael Moore and Dick Cheney are all on one side of an issue, and you disagree … you are probably a [donkey hole].”

I previously commented positively on the Women’s March on Washington, Fargo version. But I am really concerned about another march, the so-called “March for Life” that recently took place in our nation’s capital. This comment may anger some, and that’s too damned bad: How can these religious groups promoting the life of a fetus, say nothing about the children already here … children who need help and are victims of oppression, discrimination and murder. Where was the “Right to Life” crowd on that issue?

There’s hypocrisy in a movement that promotes birth, prohibits birth control and then says nothing about children already born.

God bless Canada and Scotland, which have opened their doors to those whom Trump-Bannon wish to exclude. May God continue to bless America in spite of the mistake the nation has made in electing Donald J. Trump. Amen.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — My Wish List For Gov. Burgum

I know, I know, a bunch of my readers have been waiting for me to do a little North Dakota post-election analysis. I’ve been waiting to see how the new governor starts out. He’s started. Here’s what I think. So far.

Doug Burgum is a lot smarter than me. So I’m not going to use this space to tell him how to run North Dakota. He’ll figure that out. I haven’t been this confident in a governor since Ed Schafer left office. I did use this space to tell the last two governors what I thought of their management abilities. Read whatever you want into that.

I also don’t like to be critical of people I don’t know. For instance, you haven’t read much about Al Carlson on my blog because I’m pretty sure I’ve never met the man. If I have, he must not have made much of an impression because I have a pretty good memory.

I’m not afraid to take after a lot of other politicians from time to time because they deserve it, and I know them well enough to know that they need taking after. Count Jack Dalrymple, John Hoeven, Drew Wrigley, Al Jaeger, Kelly Schmidt, Lynn Helms, Wayne Stenehjem, Douglas Goehring, Kathleenb Wrigley, and a few others among them. I’m sorry if I hurt anybody’s feelings who feels they should have been on that list. It was not intentional.

I also tend not to write bad things about my personal friends, even when they do bad things. So you haven’t seen Kevin Cramer’s name, or Heidi Heitkamp’s name, much in my writing. Although I’m about to give up on Kevin.

There’s one exception to all those rules. Donald Trump. If someone is widely known as a doofus, the rules don’t apply.

I know Burgum well enough to know I like him, and prior to his winning the Republican primary election over Wayne Stenehjem, I did give him some political advice from time to time. But after his landslide victory in June, I realized he didn’t need any more political advice from me, so that was that.

So instead of advice, I’ve made up a wish list of things that would make me happy if they happened while he is governor. I’m going to start giving him that wish list right here.

I’ve been thinking about this since last summer, when it became apparent he was going to be governor. And dang it, you know that he also knew he was going to be governor, and he could have done a better job of getting ready to fulfill some of my wishes during that six months between elections.

I know, I know, he was out making amends with the “good old boys” he spent three months criticizing, helping Republican legislators get elected, and I agree with former Gov. Ed Schafer, who told me the other day he gives Burgum credit for most of the gains the GOP made in the Legislature.

But geez, enough is enough. An 85 percent majority isn’t really necessary in the Legislature. I wish he’d have spent more time quietly recruiting people to take over all the departments of state government. So that he could have fired every single Dalrymple appointment, many of them dating back to Hoeven.

So, Wish No. 1. Replace every single department head who worked for Jack Dalrymple. Every one.

I’ve been through a couple of transitions — one coming in and two going out —and I know what is supposed to happen. Everybody submits a resignation letter and the new governor accepts them — sometimes a few survive, but not many. A governor needs his own team, people he can trust.

Oh, a few of those wishes are done, and I’m happy about that, but I agree with Schafer — they should all go. It’s not necessarily personal — it’s just that if you are going to “reinvent government,” you aren’t going to do it with people who’ve been on the job since Hoeven became governor in 2000.

And that includes the Tourism director — a job I know something about — even though she claims she’s not really a department head. She’s the laughing stock of the tourism industry for paying a Grade B no-name soap opera actor almost half a million dollars to star in some TV commercials and fishing brochures. Money wasted that could have gone to actual marketing. She’s the first tourism director who’s claimed that because she is not actually an appointed official, she doesn’t automatically get fired, and that goes back almost 50 years to Joe Satrom.

Generally, I wish there had been complete purge of department heads. Burgum is not going to reinvent government with the same people running it. I heard Shafer say that on the radio the other day. He’s right.

I did tell one of Burgum’s senior staff people the other day that I’ll reserve judgment until the end of 2017, and we’ll see how he’s done by then. I’m still a little frustrated because he really has known since June he’s going to be governor, and a lot of that could have happened by now.

Once the department heads are cleaned out, the new appointees can get on with the business Burgum got elected to do. And I’ll throw in a few wishes from time to time.

Some innocuous wishes. Like this one:

Change the official/unofficial spelling of Bad Lands. Since Schafer came into office, it has been the policy of the state to spell it Badlands, one word. I’ve argued good-naturedly with Ed about this over the years, but he won’t give in. Those are some really bad lands out there, and the Lakota word for them was “makoshika,” which meant “bad lands to travel through.” Bad being the adjective, an adjective those lands deserve, instead of just a one-word noun. Theodore Roosevelt called them Bad Lands. Two words. That’s good enough for me. I’m going to prepare a “wish paper” for submission to Doug about this. Then maybe Ed and I can each make our case, and see who can persuade Doug.

Here are some more serious wishes.

The State Health Department has been reviewing plans for an oil refinery just 2.5 miles from Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It is an outrageous proposal but just the kind of thing Dalrymple was known to put pressure on his appointees to approve. And the now-retired State Health Officer, Terry Dwelle, succumbed to that pressure time and again. I wish a new Health Officer should make this his/her first priority, since the review process on the application for an air quality permit is under way, and a hearing on the water permit will be held next week (more about that soon).

Speaking of the Health department, I might get one on my wishes from the Legislature. I wish the state would create a Department of Environmental Quality, separate from the Heath Department, and there’s legislation in the works this year to do that.

Here’s a word of caution, though: Here’s part of an e-mail I received a couple of weeks ago:

“If you have contacts within the Burgum world, you should caution them that there are some serious allegations about Dave Glatt and at least two others who’ve worked on new regulations regarding radioactive waste. It might take a bit of time but I suspect the allegations will prove to be highly embarrassing to the department, those involved and the person who would make an appointment like Mr. Glatt to head the department in question.”

I don’t know any more than that, other than Glatt’s the odds-on favorite to run that new department, and I wish he wouldn’t get it.

I wish that the State Parks Department would get going on building the new state park down by the state prison farm on Bismarck’s south side. It got a big appropriation to do that two years ago and it’s not started yet, and the Legislature could take it back —it is will be looking in every nook and cranny for money. Maybe that’s one of the reasons the state parks director was one of the first department heads to be let go.

I wish the state would reactivate the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission. That board could have done a lot in the last few years to protect the Little Missouri River valley from oil development. I wrote a couple of stories about that a while ago, and you can look at them here and here. These two blog links provide a pretty good briefing paper on that. Maybe that’s another reason the state parks director is gone.

Well, that’s a start on my wish list. I expect I’ll have more. This new governor promised to clean out the “good old boys club.” He’s pretty smart. I hope it is going to be fun to watch.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Citizens + United = Oxymoron

When the U.S. Supreme Court, on a 5-4 decision, ruled to basically eliminate caps on political spending through its decision on Citizens United — We the People lost.

My comments apply to our political system and what has been happening in recent years, regardless of your political persuasion.

Money has come to dominate our elections. Here are just a few examples of candidates who’ve bought political power, with the unplanned help of the electorate.

  • The newly elected governor of the state of North Dakota is a self-made millionaire. With absolutely no political experience (“experience” being the key word), he made promises to get rid of the good old boys club and bring change. So far, his idea of change is to retain most, if not all, of the outgoing administration’s picks. Apparently, he thinks keeping the same people equals change.

The sad fact is that many, including me, bought into that BS. And the result was to leave Wayne Stenehjem, the current attorney general and former candidate for governor, on the losing side of the contest.

Stenehjem is one of the most honest, caring and capable politicians ever to hold public office in North Dakota. The GOP deserted him. The loss is to the people of the state.

Wayne is a political expert. Burgum has no experience, but worse his failure to promote the agenda he ran on and his support of his mentor Trump show the error of our ways.

  • The president-elect purchased his way into office over many qualified Republican opponents. He can claim he “has a great program” now because he has changed his promises so often that he can truly claim that every possible position on an issue is one he has espoused.

It’s the first time we have ever had a president-elect who openly admires Vladimir Putin of Russia and everything he stands for … a president-elect who maintains that he himself is his own best source of information … says he knows more than our military generals and denigrates our intelligence agencies — all of them … all this without attending the intelligence briefings.

Yes, some people may say he was a better candidate than Hillary Clinton. But those same people know there were many, many Republican candidates more qualified than Trump. And yet they opted for the most dangerous man ever to be elected to the most powerful office in the world.

Having lost the general election by nearly 3 million votes, what is Trump’s first tweet of the New Year? “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”

In my world, those who do not support me are “opponents.” In Trump’s world, they are “enemies.” That’s just scary. The president of the United States is supposed to represent ALL the American people, not just his supporters.

From one standpoint, the 2016 election seems like “Citizens United” in reverse. Clinton had the cash and lost. But that’s not the issue here. Instead, it’s what the Republicans could have done for this country.

  • Anyone remember Marsy’s Law? It was the bad initiated measure proposed by a California millionaire, who bought and paid for his very own amendment to the North Dakota Constitution. So many millions were injected into the campaign to purchase advertising, and thus media exposure, that the fact that most of the state’s judges, defense attorneys, prosecuting attorneys and victim advocates opposed it was lost on the public.

It was unfortunate that Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney and Burleigh County Sheriff Pat Heinert were so prominently featured in ads supporting the amendment. They should have known better. Since they didn’t, perhaps you should call them and ask why. Don’t call the measure’s opponents; it’s too late for that.

Once again, money talked … very loudly. Now the criminal justice system is left to figure out how to deal with this change in our constitution.

Because this is the United States of America, we will survive a President Trump, a Gov. Burgum and Marsy’s Law. With good advice, common sense and open minds, our rookie leaders can — and must — learn on the job. They might represent us well, and, after all, that is what everyone wants, regardless of political beliefs.

Burgum has disclosed his financial records. Trump has not. The president-elect promised on many occasions that he would eventually release his tax returns. He has not done so. The president-elect also says he will divest himself of his assets to avoid the appearance of impropriety. He has not done so.

State government will keep Gov. Burgum honest. The jury is out on whether Congress will do the same for the president-elect.

I’m hopeful that the Democrats in the U.S. Senate do not follow the cowardly and destructive path set by Sen. Mitch McConnell. Supreme Court candidates and vacancies in the federal system should be acted upon quickly and given up or down votes. The court system has been suffering under the do-nothing GOP-controlled Senate; the Democratic minority should not follow suit.

We elect senators and representatives who do not put in a full week’s work and set records for time off. Here in the local environment, workers or employees who did that would be fired. Yet in our federal system, those who have been elected are rewarded. This does not make sense to me. It never will.

So, enough with this week’s thoughts. To all my friends who care: This has been a great year for me. Now I’m off to make my second million dollars — I gave up trying to make the first a good long time ago. Amen.