- Associated Press - Thursday, February 20, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A coalition that includes energy, farm and business groups began a campaign Thursday against a proposed measure that would set aside more oil taxes for water, wildlife and parks projects.

The North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation group announced opposition to the proposed North Dakota conservation fund ballot measure at meetings in Bismarck and Fargo.

Conservation advocates want 5 percent of the state’s oil extraction taxes for the proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Fund. The current fund is capped at $30 million during the state’s two-year budget cycle.

Opponents of the measure said the increase would raise up to $400 million each two-year budget cycle, based on projected oil production rates.

Kelvin Hullet, president of the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce and spokesman for the group, said in a statement that the proposed amendment “would spend too much money with too little flexibility.”

“The spending requirement in this initiative means that whether or not there are legitimate conservation needs, some $3 million per week on average would have to be spent on conservation projects, regardless of needs in other critical areas like schools and our children’s education,” Hullet said.

Backers of the proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Fund are trying to collect 26,904 petition signatures to get the measure on the Nov. 5, 2014, ballot.

Eric Lindstrom, of Ducks Unlimited and a backer of the proposed fund, said about 10,000 signatures have been obtained to date. About 400 volunteers from some 35 groups across the state are working to get the measure on the ballot, he said.

Lindstrom said more needs to be done to protect the state’s air, water and land because of unprecedented oil and gas development and the rapid loss of conservation acres on farms. He said public opinion polls also show broad support for a bigger conservation fund.

Lindstrom said his group estimates the fund would raise about $150 million during the 2015-17 budget period.

Opponents of the measure include the North Dakota Petroleum Council; Lignite Energy Council; Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce; North Dakota League of Cities; North Dakota Association of Counties; North Dakota School Boards Association; the North Dakota Farm Bureau; North Dakota Grain Growers; North Dakota Corn Growers; and chambers of commerce from Minot and Grand Forks.

Conservation groups supporting the proposed amendment include: Pheasants Forever; Ducks Unlimited; The Nature Conservancy; The National Wildlife Federation; and the Audubon Society.

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