- Associated Press - Thursday, January 29, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Williston Herald, Williston, Jan. 24, 2015

Your move, Gov. Bullock

In North Dakota, we know a few things about oil spills and toothless penalties.

Calling it second nature for us to doubt the state government’s ability to levy and maintain a fine for an environmental incident isn’t a stretch. And there’s plenty of evidence to support that sentiment when we consider a 10 percent fine policy and a too-close-for-comfort relationship between regulators and the industry.

Now, for the past week, we’ve been reminded of the ugly side of the industry. A spill in the Yellowstone River in Montana contaminated the water supply in Glendive, Montana for - luckily - only a couple days.

Just a few days after the full scope of Glendive came into view, Meadlowlark Midstream and the state of North Dakota announced what is looking more and more like the largest environmental industry incident the state has ever seen.

About 3 million gallons (70,000 barrels) of brine was reported to have affected Blacktail Creek and Little Muddy Creek, recorded two weeks after the spill occurred on Jan. 6.

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Summit Midstream, the parent company, faces a hefty fine, but could have it reduced depending on cause and cleanup effort.

Excuse us if we’ve heard that before.

That’s why we’re looking west to Helena, Montana and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.

It seems if anyone is going to set the standard for fining the industry, and sticking to it, Bullock has the chance to do so with a seemingly clean slate behind him.

Eastern Montana experiences many of the same changes of the Bakken as we do in western North Dakota: High prices, rapid growth and, yes, potential environmental hazards.

They’ve escaped - when compared to North Dakota - the big spill, until now.

Which is why Bullock needs to set the tone, because this incident endangered the quality of life and health of the people of Glendive.

Notification was admittedly late to residents, bottled water was shipped in and we won’t know the full extent of wildlife and environmental damage until at least spring.

A 60-year-old pipeline there, a 6-month-old pipeline here, two big spills in two states, two completely different effects, and hopefully a different set of actions from the state government than we’re used to seeing.

If Bridger Pipeline is at fault in this incident, it should face the fullest extent of fines and legal ramifications.

It may be able to remediate the land and replenish any wildlife, but how long until we know the full extent of any health issues caused to the people? It’s a fair question, after all, since oil and gas breached a city’s water supply.

When we find out the full details, will the state of Montana stand strong or copy from its neighboring state?

Your move, Gov. Bullock.


The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Jan. 25, 2015

No need for annual legislative sessions

There are bills in both chambers of the Legislature advocating for annual legislative sessions.

Senate Bill 2247 would provide for up to 50 days in odd-numbered years and mandate a 30-day session in even-numbered years. House Bill 1342 would cap sessions in odd-numbered years at 60 days beginning next session. The Legislature would recess until the following year and use the remaining 20 days. Currently, the state is limited to 80 days every odd-numbered year, beginning in January.

Various legislators have indicated that they don’t think either bill will pass, though each bill has support from both sides of the aisle.

It is the Bismarck Tribune’s opinion that there is no current need for annual sessions nor is there in the visible future. Let’s stay with what has proven to work.

Sometimes less is more. Having the legislative body meet only biennially, with the 80-day limit, means that legislators need to spend their time working on the most important issues. More opportunities to meet, means more opportunities to spend, and more opportunities to pass bills, with more governance and regulation that we really don’t need. One of the arguments for biennial sessions is that they have proven to be a safeguard against unneeded legislation.

While the Legislature is in session all eyes focus on what is going on at the Capitol. That’s a good thing. It keeps our elected officials concentrating on the important issues, knowing that they are under constant scrutiny. We might lose that scrutiny if we move to annual sessions, they would lose that sense of specialness they have now and with that blend in with all the other noise in the everyday hustle and bustle of life.

Plus, there are provisions in the North Dakota Constitution allowing the governor the option of calling a special session when needed, and there are already selected legislative committees meeting in the off years. The vehicle is there to reconvene the entire body should it be necessary.

We already know that under North Dakota’s constitution, the Legislative Assembly may meet for up to 80 days during the biennium (Article IV, Section 7). According to www.legis.nd.gov, a 1995 change in statute (North Dakota Century Code Section 54-03-02), gave the Legislative Management authority to reconvene the Legislative Assembly. The length of a reconvened session called by the Legislative Management may not exceed the number of days available (80 natural days) but not used by the last regular legislative session.

This means that the Legislature basically already has the authority to keep a few days in reserve if it needs them.

North Dakota has a legislative body that operates the way the nation’s founders envisioned our government - we send citizen-legislators to the Capitol to do the people’s work, then those legislators return to their homes and their regular jobs and convene two years later.

Legislators, as they do every session, get the people’s business done in 80 days or less and get back to everyday life. Our process works just fine.


Minot Daily News, Minot, Jan. 29, 2015

Less access bad idea

Every two years like clockwork it happens again, a select group of state lawmakers present bills designed to shut off access to public information.

For years we have fought those efforts, winning some battles and losing others.

Well the members of the Legislature are at it again.

According to the North Dakota Newspaper Association, there are four proposed laws designed to keep the public in the dark. We will address two of those today.

SB 2134 would allow the Board of Higher Education to close a meeting to hire or fire a chancellor. A second section of this law would exempt all records used in performance reviews of college presidents from the open records law.

Both are horrible ideas.

If recent history has proven anything, it is clear the public needs to know more, often a lot more, about potential chancellors before they are hired. The same can be said for college presidents.

The board of higher education has been slapped on the wrist several times in recent years for violating the open meetings law. Instead of working to regain the public trust by becoming more open, they want to close off public access. It’s a bad idea, bad government and should be soundly defeated. SB 2134 needs to be defeated to send a message to the Board of Higher Education that open government is always better government.

A second bill, SB 2153, would close school personnel files from the public if any school district employee faces a criminal complaint.

Again, this is a bad idea and does nothing to serve the public interest.

This bill is likely the result of some high-profile cases where teachers have been charged with sex crimes. But in that case, or any case, hiding information is not the right answer.

The fact is public school employees are government employees. They need to play by the same rules that govern city, county, state and other government employees.

SB 2153 needs to be voted down to protect the public and future generations.


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