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Published April 07, 2014, 09:34 AM

Conservation amendment raises too many red flags

North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation is a broad-based coalition of more than 25 agriculture, business, industry and government organizations that have joined forces to oppose the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment, which would spend too much money with too little flexibility.

By: Jon Godfread and Mark Watne, Agweek

North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation is a broad-based coalition of more than 25 agriculture, business, industry and government organizations that have joined forces to oppose the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment, which would spend too much money with too little flexibility.

All the coalition members support smart, responsible conservation. But this measure that creates a new massive conservation fund is fundamentally flawed.

It would commit 5 percent of North Dakota’s oil extraction tax to a new fund with no clear idea of how it would be spent. Five percent would be between $300 million and $400 million a biennium, or $3 million per week. That’s an estimated $4.8 billion over the 25-year life of the amendment.

Some might wonder where our estimates come from, particularly when proponents of the measure estimate only about $75 million per biennium, compared with our $300 million to $400 million per biennium. We don’t know how they’ve determined their estimates, but ours are based in grounded analysis.

North Dakota’s oil production is just shy of 1 million barrels per day and it’s growing rapidly because of better technology and increased efficiency. Our projections for this fund are based on estimates that production will reach 1.2 million barrels per day by 2015, growing to a peak of 1.8 million barrels a day by 2021, and tapering off to 1.2 million barrels by the time the fund reaches the end of its 25-year lifespan in 2039. And, more importantly, our projections are based on the price of oil averaging around $100 a barrel for the life of the fund.

This is a conservative estimate, considering we’ve seen the price of oil spike to $130 a barrel, and higher, in recent history.

The measure requires that 75 percent of the fund be spent each biennium, no matter what. The money diverted to this fund would otherwise be spent on schools, education, infrastructure, property tax relief, water issues, health and human services — the list goes on.

One of the amendment’s most alarming aspects is that there’s no language explaining how the money will be spent other than on “conservation” and can be used to purchase land. Conservation groups would be able to buy land and take it out of production agriculture, restrict public access or close it to hunters and fishermen — whatever they wished.

North Dakotans need to consider the consequences of signing onto a 25-year government mandate to spend billions of dollars. We aren’t able to predict what our funding needs will be in 10 years, much less 25.

There are too many red flags and uncertainties raised by this measure to allow it to be enshrined in our state’s constitution. Help keep it off the ballot by refusing to sign the petition and encouraging everyone you know to do the same. Do the right thing and decline to sign.

Editor’s note: Godfread is the vice president of governmental affairs for the Greater North Dakota Chamber. Watne is the president of the North Dakota Farmers Union.

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