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Here’s How We Can Help Wayne Stenehjem Tackle The Oil Industry
Written by Jim Fuglie   

WesternND(Cross-posted, with permission, from The Prairie Blog.)

I’m beginning to think that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem might just be ready to really start looking at oil and gas drilling permit applications instead of just giving them blanket approval at monthly meetings of the North Dakota Industrial Commission. That would be the best news to come out of the Oil Patch since fracking was invented.

Stenehjem and some in the conservation community coined the phrase “special places” last May after a couple of controversial permit applications made a lot of news and noise. The first was approval of an application to drill 8 wells near the Killdeer Mountains, in an area that residents and historians felt was “culturally significant.” The other was an application, later withdrawn after media exposure, to drill a well next to the Elkhorn Ranch. Stenehjem said it might be a good idea to make a list of some of the areas that needed to get special consideration when permits are issued. Jack Dalrymple agreed that it might be a good idea to come up with that list, and even go on a little tour to see some of them. Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring nodded.

That was six months ago. Since then, a couple thousand permits have been issued with still no formal procedure in place to see if they might be for places that really shouldn’t have an oil well. But there’s been activity on “making a list” on a couple of fronts. Jack Dalrymple went to Little Missouri State Park, where the Commission had already issued a number of drilling permits, and held a press conference to say that he was concerned about issuing drilling permits in places like Little Missouri State Park. Uh huh. And Stenehjem convened a panel of people whose opinions he respected and asked them for advice, but once the news media found out about it, he unconvened the panel.

But as the media (and bloggers) stayed with the story, Stenehjem’s been using some interesting language lately in news stories, where phrases like “extraordinary places that also will include the Little Missouri River and Bullion Butte,” “requirements spelled out in administrative rules,” “requiring pipe placement to avoid flaring natural gas,” and “formal procedure.”

And the latest story in the newspapers says he is going to make some kind of proposal at a December 19 Industrial Commission meeting. All of those reports give those of us concerned about rampant, unrestrained drilling cause for some hope. I’ve been about as critical of the Industrial Commission and its members as anyone, but I’ve never felt it was good to just be critical, without offering some alternative. So last week I sent to Stenehjem my ideas for how the Industrial Commission could begin to examine each drilling permit application and make a decision based on information provided to them by their own state government agencies.

I’m not the only one to do this. Others have also proposed ideas for actual administrative rules, perhaps the ones Stenehjem is referring to, which would require that staff with expertise on the scenic, agricultural, historical, archeological, paleontological, recreational and environmental values of land proposed for oil and gas drilling sign off on permits before they are approved. That would be the best of all possible worlds.

So I’m just going to share with you the proposal I sent to the Attorney General. This is only one idea. I think it would be good if he heard from a lot of people between now and December 19, so please send him yours as well. There’s a nice lady in his office named Liz Brocker who takes e-mails at lbrocker@nd.gov and passes them on to Wayne. I think he reads them. So please let him know what you think as well. There are a whole lot of “special places” in western North Dakota that will thank you. Here’s what I sent to Stenehjem.

SPECIAL PLACES IN WESTERN NORTH DAKOTA

The reality of the Bakken Boom is this: We now have somewhere around nine thousand oil wells in North Dakota, a number which is growing rapidly, on our way to 40 or 50 thousand. The best sites have been cherry picked for ease of access to oil and avoidance of public criticism. There is going to be more and more pressure on permitting agencies to allow development in more sensitive areas as the boom progresses.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission, which grants drilling permits, has indicated a willingness to consider developing some kind of criteria which will require oil companies to consider scenic, agricultural, historical, archeological, paleontological, recreational and environmental values when locating drilling sites.  For the purpose of discussion, I have divided sites with these values into three categories.

The first category is for federally owned lands, such as National Parks and National Grasslands roadless areas, which already have restrictions on surface occupancy, but on which the state could add other protections, such as viewshed or noise buffer zones, in the location of drilling sites. In the case of a National Park, for example, a buffer zone could be created that would protect the viewshed from the park. A well might be located as close as a quarter mile from the Park boundary but out of sight of visitors to the park. Or, the Commission might require a well site to be moved two miles from the Park if there is no other way to access a lease without visual interruption to Park visitors. Likewise, if a permit application placed a well too close to a National Wildlife Refuge offering critical wildlife habitat (protected piping plovers, for example), the Commission might create a two-mile buffer zone around that refuge, requiring oil companies to access their lease horizontally—these days not a burdensome requirement.

The second category is lands owned or managed by the State of North Dakota. Generally, except for state school lands given to us at statehood, these are lands which have been acquired because they have some special value—parks, forests, wildlife areas and historic sites. On these lands, state agencies could make recommendations to the Commission about surface occupancy to protect those special values for which they were acquired. That’s already being done on state school lands. So the same process could be applied to other drilling permit applications, using the stipulation criteria already being used on school lands.

The third category is for areas such as buttes, trails and river valleys with scenic or other non-commercial values. These lands generally include a mix of public and privately owned land, so any restrictions placed on them would generally be well-site location recommendations to drillers to protect the scenic value of the areas. An example would be placing a well site out of sight of the front porch of a hunting lodge in the Bad Lands or away from a well-used hiking trail. Oil companies who are good partners and good corporate citizens should be receptive to recommendations from experts on well site locations which are not onerous.

Of course, all of these tasks are going to require sufficient staff at state agencies to review drilling permit applications to look for areas that need special consideration or permit stipulations. It’s a logical assumption that a request from the Industrial Commission to the Emergency Commission for additional FTE’s and funds to hire them will be met with favor. Because state agencies generally have access to GIS map layers, this task is not overly burdensome. It will just require time from agency staffs, and the knowledge, which will increase over time, to make recommendations on oil well placement. Nothing in this proposal will diminish the number of permits issued, nor will it, once implemented, slow the process of issuing permits. It is going to cost the state some money, but in the end it is going to make for better partnership between state regulators and the oil industry. In time, in fact, the industry will come to recognize areas the state is interested in, and incorporate that interest into their permit applications, speeding up the process of permit approval.

The lists below are not intended to create a priority ranking. As one state agency head said recently, “They are all important. They just need different kinds of consideration.” These categories are intended to show that there are numerous areas of special interest—Special Places—which require different kinds of attention in the permitting and drilling process.

CATEGORY 1

Areas managed by federal agencies, that already have some surface occupancy restrictions or stipulations, around which we should create either a buffer zone or require viewshed and noise protection stipulations.

  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park, all three units
  • Lake Sakakawea, the Missouri River Valley above the lake, and the Yellowstone River Valley
  • All non-motorized areas of the Little Missouri National Grasslands, including interior and adjacent state lands
  • National Wildlife Refuges, Federal Waterfowl Production Areas, and other areas identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as critical habitat areas
  • National Historic Sites, Districts and Landmarks

CATEGORY 2

Areas managed by the State of North Dakota in which appropriate state agencies should make recommendations to the Industrial Commission on buffer zones, surface occupancy, well site locations and/or other appropriate stipulations (a model of which is already in use for state school lands), to offer some level of protection to areas in which the state has a significant investment.

  • North Dakota State Parks, Forests, Recreation Areas, Preserves, Natural Areas and other lands managed by the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department or State Forestry Department
  • North Dakota State Historic Sites and other historic areas managed, or identified as having historical significance, by the State Historical Society of North Dakota
  • North Dakota Wildlife Management Areas and other areas identified as critical habitat by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department
  • North Dakota State School Lands (already included in this category and already  subject to stipulations)

CATEGORY 3

Areas of particular scenic, agricultural, historical, archeological, paleontological, recreational or environmental significance, not necessarily owned or managed by a government agency, around which we should create viewshed protection, noise buffers and/or attach other surface occupancy stipulations to drilling permits to retain the non-commercial value of these areas. A partial list, which may be enhanced by agencies, organizations or people with expertise in these areas, is included here.

  • The Little Missouri State Scenic River Valley
  • The Killdeer Mountains
  • The west slope of the Turtle Mountains
  • The Maah Daah Hey Trail
  • Paleontological sites in Bowman and Slope Counties
  • Knife River Flint Quarries
  • Areas identified by the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commissioner or Tribal officials as having historical, religious or other special significance to Native American Tribes
  • Bad Lands scenic areas such as White Butte, Chalky Buttes, Black Butte, Square Butte, Sentinel Butte, Camel’s Hump Butte, Pretty Butte, the Teepee Buttes, the Burning Coal Vein area, the Ponderosa Pine, Limber Pine and Columnar Juniper areas, and Tracy Mountain

In summary, this proposal generally proposes that each drilling permit application from this point forward be looked at by state agency professionals to make sure well sites and other surface disturbances related to oil and gas production are properly located. Such scrutiny will allow our state agencies to also consider the cumulative impact of the oil and gas industry on our natural and cultural resources and recommend to the Industrial Commission additional management practices to deal with that as well.

 
Happy Birthday to this!
Written by Chet   

BirthdaysOn this day, eight years ago, I posted the very first blog post on this blog.  Actually, it wasn't NorthDecoder, but it was NorthDecoder's predecessor, which -- in June of 2007 -- evolved into NorthDecoder.  So we've been at it, off and on, for eight years.

Have some cake.

 
Journalism 102
Written by Chet   

TeabuneImbalancedAnother Bismarck Tribune story caught my eye yesterday.  I meant to write something about it, but things were a little hectic around here. The Teabune's government/politics cub half-reporter, Nick Smith, wrote a story entitled "Residents Gather to Talk Property Taxes."  He clearly had decided to start writing a balanced teabagger story, so he approached the radical, right-wing guy who "spearheaded" the failed Measure 2 effort in the June 2012 primary, to eliminate property taxes in North Dakota. 

Robert Hale, a Minot attorney for the property tax abolition group Empower the Taxpayer, sought to educate local landowners on property taxes. Information on how the property tax funds K-12 schools as well as local property tax data was shared with the more than 30 people at the Bismarck Public Library.

[ ]

Hale said opponents of the measure claimed at the time that the state could address the issue of increasing property tax burdens through other means.

"The question is, did they fix them?" Hale said. "They were dead wrong. They've done nothing to fix them."

Bismarck Teabune

Okay, so they got the radical, right-wing teabaggeresque perspective on the dismal failure of Measure 2 in 2012.  "Next," Nick apparently thought, "let's get the perspective of the 'other side' on the topic."  So, of course, Smith went to...

Jon Godfread with the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce said it’s still fairly early but the meetings are on the chamber's radar. Godfread was speaking on behalf of Keep it Local North Dakota, a business coalition that fought the property tax abolition measure in 2012.

[ ]

Godfread said while the Keep It Local group would likely oppose any new property tax abolition measure, the rising cost of the tax is an important problem to resolve.

"I definitely give them credit for keeping the discussion going," Godfread said.

Bismarck Teabune

There!  Do you see what Nick did there?  Nick smartly got the radical, crackpottish, teabaggy, right-wing view on property taxes, and then he got the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce right-wing corporatists, polluters and poisoners perspective.

All bases covered, right?

Nice work, Nick.

Crazy idea for you next time, Nick. When you're trying to do a political story and are going to try to pretend to present a balanced view in the Teabune, if you're doing a story about some right-wing crackpottery, call someone from the left to respond. And vice versa.

Sure, it sounds crazy.  But it just might work.

 
Journalism 101
Written by Jim Fuglie   

(Cross-posted, with permission, from "The Prairie Blog.")

A friend of mine once described me as a “lapsed journalist.” I corrected him and said I was a “recovering journalist.” In either case, the title gives me the credentials to tell you a story about the sorry state of journalism in North Dakota.

Last Sunday, the Forum Communications Company’s North Dakota papers ran a story written by a young reporter that was generated by a blog post I wrote a couple weeks ago. (My blog, coincidentally, is hosted by Forum Communications, and shows up on the Area Voices sections of the websites of their newspapers, four of which—The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, The Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun and The Dickinson Press—are in North Dakota. It’s on their websites for now, at least. That may change after I finish writing this. I hope not, though.) In the blog post, I was pretty critical of Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. The issue was the list of “Special Places” the North Dakota Industrial Commission is compiling, places which may or may not get special consideration when the Commission issues oil and gas drilling permits. You can read the story here if you want to.

The story was a summary of a long interview the reporter did with the Attorney General. Wayne defended what he had been doing that I was critical of, refuted a few things I said, but generally was kinder to me than I had been to him. That’s his style, and it’s why I still kind of like him. The reporter, however, was not so kind. He summarized what my blog had said in two sentences and then wrote “Fuglie did not return a phone message left at his home Thursday.”

As I said, the story ran on Sunday. Three days after he said he left me a message. Except that he didn’t leave me a message. Because I don’t have a phone at my home. When Lillian and I moved back to Bismarck in 2009, we both had cell phones, all of our friends had our numbers, and we couldn’t see wasting 50 or 60 bucks a month on a land line. So we didn’t.

Now, the fact that the story said I didn’t return the reporter’s call could have left, and probably did leave, a bad impression of me with the readers. Hmmm, Fuglie was afraid to respond to Stenehjem, or didn’t care enough to tell his side of the story, or something like that. Because the story ran on Sunday, and he got the message way back on Thursday. Surely Fuglie had time to return the call in three days.

All I know is, it really pissed me off. Not that I had much more to say (although I am usually not at a loss for words when a microphone is waved in front of my face), but that readers got a bad impression of me for not responding. So when I read the story, I found the reporter’s e-mail address and sent him an e-mail telling him I had no home phone and had never received a phone message from him.  After a brief exchange of e-mails (all of which included my cell phone number) he explained that he had done something called a Lexis/Nexis search for me which turned up an old phone number which had been assigned to me back in 1982 and which was disconnected when I moved out to western North Dakota in 2004. His search showed my correct current address, with no current phone number, but it did show the old phone number listed by Lexis/Nexis with a previous address where I had lived when I had that phone number—nine years ago. So he called that number and left a message. On the voice mail of the person who now has that phone number. And then waited for me to respond. And that was the extent of his search for me, to include my comments in his story.

In his e-mail response to me, when he sent me his Lexis/Nexis search story, he ended his e-mail with “Just curious, is the other Jim Fuglie (wife Rose) a relative of yours?

I wrote back that my wife’s name is Lillian, and that there is only one other Jim Fuglie in the whole world, my third cousin in Minneapolis, whose wife’s name is Kaye. But I puzzled over that question for a while, and then decided to become a reporter and do some investigating. I wanted to know whose voice mail he had left a message for me on. So I went to the online White Pages directory and did a reverse phone look-up for the number that used to be mine. Sure enough, it has been reassigned. To James Rose. Hmmm.  James Rose. Hmmm. Jim Rose. Light bulb came on. I called the number. Got a voice mail message: “Hello, this is Jim Rose. I can’t come to the phone right now . . .” Not “Jim and Rose.” Just “Jim Rose.” Articulated very clearly. Mystery solved. I did not leave a message.

Well, that, unfortunately, has become the standard for reporting the news in North Dakota. Write a story, make a half-hearted effort to contact people named in the story, then run it. My, how things have changed since my days as a reporter and editor. My editor at the Dickinson Press once told me “It is not good enough to say someone was ‘unavailable for comment’ (which I once tried to do in a story about coal development in 1975) until you have exhausted every possibility that you might be able to track them down.” In our case, that meant staying on the phone right up until our 9:30 or 10 p.m. deadline, or driving to the bowling alley where they might be in a league, or calling their cousin in Bowman to see if he knew where the person might be. I often was able to reach someone who was a principal in a story by simply staying with the effort. And in pretty much every case, it made the story better. Sometimes, when you could not get both sides of the story, you had to just hold the story until the next day (or until Sunday), until you finally reached everybody. Not in 2013. Today, you just say “Well, we left a message for the asshole, but he didn’t call us back, so screw him.” Usually, though, I think the reporters try to make sure they leave the message at the right house.  Usually. Not always. Of course, in my day there was no such thing as voice mail, so you couldn’t just say “He did not return a phone message left at his home Thursday.” You actually had to keep calling back until you either reached someone or you reached your deadline.

There’s a story I used to tell reporters who worked for me, or with me, that bears repeating. It was election night, 1972 at The Dickinson Press. The entire Press staff was working the phones, tracking down election results, including a young high school senior, who was a paid part-time staffer, but I suppose would be called an intern today.  County auditors in southwest North Dakota had been asked to call in the results of the election in their county. The Press was not only doing its own story, but forwarding the results to the Associated Press, which was compiling the results statewide and announcing the winners. There was a very close race for Governor between Art Link and Richard Larsen, and it was not going to be decided until every county’s results had been tabulated.

As the paper’s deadline neared, The Press staff had results from all of its assigned counties except Adams County, in extreme southwest North Dakota. There was no answer at the county auditor’s office. The office had been closed for the night and everyone gone home, without reporting in. What to do? Put the paper to bed without the Adams County results? Nope, said the editor, keep trying. We’ll hold the presses.

Well, it turns out one reporter happened to be from Adams County, and he told the young intern the auditor’s name and said to call her home. He did. No answer. Well, then, call the bars in Hettinger, starting with the Pastime, the reporter said to the intern. Sometimes they go out for a drink after they are done working.

Bingo. She was at the Pastime. She had the results in her car. She got them and gave them to the intern over the phone from the bar. With that, the story was complete and the paper went to print. In the morning, everyone knew that in spite of the fact Richard Larsen had beaten Art Link by 16 votes out of almost 2,000 cast in Adams County, Art Link had been elected Governor, by less than 5,000 votes statewide. (And, as an aside, that Byron Dorgan beat Richard Lommen for State Tax Commissioner by a vote of 1,350 to 377 in Adams County.)

It would have been easy for The Press to report “Results from Adams County were not available because the county auditor failed to report them.” Would have made the auditor look pretty bad. But the newspaper’s job is to gather the news, and report it. Not reporting it is cheating the newspaper’s subscribers, who paid to learn who won the election. And because that young high school senior, Clay Jenkinson, listened to that former Adams County resident across the desk from him, Jim Fuglie, and got back on the phone and started calling bars, earning himself the nickname “Scoop” from that day forward, the story was complete. That’s good journalism, the way it used to be practiced. And should still be. But these days, a voice mail is sufficient. Even if it is pretty clear that the voice mail was left on someone else’s phone.

In this case, the reporter tried to reach me on a Thursday. I did not respond immediately because I did not get the message. But the story did not run until Sunday. So he had Friday and Saturday to try to track me down to ask me whatever it was he was going to ask me. He didn’t do that. These days, it is pretty easy to track someone down, with all the communications devices available. I communicate regularly with a number of Forum Communications employees by e-mail and phone. I am Facebook friends with many of them, including both Bill Marcils. My e-mail is on my Facebook page. I have a comment section on my blog, which sends me an e-mail when someone comments, as he should have known, since the blog is on all the Forum Communications websites. Pretty much everyone who knows me or knows of me knows that I worked for the Democratic-NPL Party and the Medora Foundation, so they would surely know how to find me. I could go on.

But you know what? I don’t just fault the reporter. That story appeared in four North Dakota newspapers. It had to get past four city editors before it got into the papers. Every one of those editors should have said “Wait a minute, how hard did you try to reach Fuglie? Try again. The story is not complete, and you have a couple days to fix it.” But instead, they just ran with what they had. Bad journalism. Top to bottom.

To their credit, senior editors at the Grand Forks Herald, by far the state’s best newspaper, took a look at the story when it appeared in the paper and said “Well, that’s not good enough.” So they ran an editorial the next day, which you can read here. The Dickinson Press also reprinted it a couple days later. The Forum ran a correction in the paper the next day which said “A message left Thursday for former North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party executive director Jim Fuglie was left at the wrong phone number, so Fuglie did not have an opportunity to respond to a request for comment. This information was incorrect in a story on Page C1 of Sunday’s Forum about North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s effort to compile a list of ‘extraordinary places’ in the state for protection from energy development and other impacts.” I wasn’t able to get printed copies of the other three papers so I don’t know if they also ran the correction. None of them ran it on their website, where I first read the story, that I can tell.

Now, I hope readers don’t get the impression I’m feeling picked on or feeling sorry for myself. I’m not. This isn’t really about me, and it really isn’t about the young reporter who did this story. I’ve been bemoaning the sorry state of journalism in North Dakota for a long time, and this is a classic example of how the news media here operates today. Next time you read a newspaper story, and you come to the line “Fred did not respond to a request for comment” you’ll likely know that the reporter did not really make much of an effort to reach Fred, and his or her editor did not care. I am a newspaper junkie, having been raised in the profession. But I have a lot of friends who have just given up on subscribing to their local paper because of the quality of journalism they see, and have come to expect. Instead, they glance through the news online. They watch “The Daily Show” (but not the six o’clock news). Newspaper circulation continues to decline. So do television news ratings. There’s a reason. You just finished reading about it.

Footnote: A short crime story in Friday’s Bismarck Tribune, by an Associated Press writer, contained these three statements:

  • The man’s attorney, Henry Howe, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
  • Pembina County State’s Attorney Barbara Whelan also did not immediately return a call seeking more information on the case.
  • The woman did not immediately respond to requests for comment made Thursday through Facebook. (!!!) (emphasis and exclamatory incredibility mine)

I checked online, and it ran in pretty much every paper in the state. Just like that. Apparently this is indeed the new standard for news reporting (and editing) in North Dakota. Isn’t that sad?

 
MDU Welcoming Corrupt ALEC Organization To Bismarck
Written by Chet   

TribThe corrupt ALEC organization is coming to North Dakota next week. And your public utility company is paying for it with money you are required to pay to the MDU monopoly if you want electricty. (Unless you're served by a cooperative or are in the eastern part of the state.) A lot of people don't know what "ALEC" is, so I'm going to tell you. I've written about ALEC a few times before, but I'll do it again.  ALEC is a corrupt organization that lobbies legislators in North Dakota and other states on behalf of polluters, oil companies (but I repeat myself), private for-profit prisons, big banks, bad insurance companies and big pharma.  If you see a proposed law that will take accountability away for polluters, oil companies, private prisons, big banks, bad insurance companies or negligent pharmaceutical companies, you can bet the legislation is the handiwork of some ALEC minion.  

Back during the 2009 North Dakota legislative session, ALEC sent two of its operatives into North Dakota to lobby to protect one specific asbestos company from liability when that company's product hurt or killed someone.  After I busted them for lobbying illegally (without registering), those two lobbyists promptly filed the proper paperwork with the North Dakota Secretary of State's office.  (You can read all about that by clicking here.)  Of course, neither the Secretary of State nor the Attorney General nor any State's Attorney ever prosecuted those lobbyists for illegally lobbying. They are not in the business of enforcing the laws against their corporate masters and owners.  

Then, in July of 2010, when its operatives filed its IRS form 990 (non-profit tax return), ALEC lied on its 2009 tax return. Non-profits are required -- under federal tax law -- to disclose whether they "engage in lobbying activities" on their tax return. When ALEC filled out its 2009 return, they lied to the IRS and said they had not engaged in lobbying activities in 2009, despite the irrefutable fact that two of its operatives registered as lobbyists in North Dakota, and they lobbied here, during the 2009 legislative session.  They checked the box that says "No" in response to the question "Did the organization engage in lobbying activities?"  (See my blog post about this, with a copy of their Form 990, here.)  This was a big enough deal, nationally, so that it raised the attention of a top IRS administrator -- Marcus Owens, "who for a decade directed the [IRS] division responsible for approving organizations' charity status."  (RollCall.com)  Here's what RollCall.com wrote about it after one group filed an IRS complaint about it at the time:

The complaint, filed on behalf of Clergy Voice, a group of Christian clergy in Ohio, notes that ALEC denied engaging in lobbying activity in its federal tax filings covering the years 2008 and 2009. At the same time, two of its lawyers were registered to lobby in at least one state, North Dakota. False reporting on these forms has been found to be a criminal offense considered perjury in at least four recent cases, Owens said.

RollCall.com (emphasis added) (go read the whole story)

Let's be clear about something: You've never read, heard or seen anything about any of this in any North Dakota mainstream media outlet. That's because they are all bought-and-paid-for by ALEC and its owners.

So yesterday's Bismarck Teabune had a nice little story in it by one of its cub half-journalists, Nick Smith; someone who obviously knows nothing about ALEC, or doesn't care about publishing the whole story. His fluff piece reads like something from any small town social register. "Mary Lou Hindsworth hosting a ladies tea party next Friday."  Here's part of his unhelpful, half-story drivel.

A social event will be held next week in Bismarck for lawmakers to meet and raise money for a legislative organization that pushes for free-market legislation.

MDU Resources will be hosting a beer and wine tasting for lawmakers Wednesday at its corporate campus in Bismarck. The event is to promote and raise money for the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC is a corporate-funded organization that works with conservative legislators as well as businesses and foundations to create models for state legislatures to pass.

The group on its website lists its main legislative principles as free-market enterprise, limited government and federalism. Policies the group has pushed in several states in the past include reducing corporate taxation and regulations, promoting gun rights and minimizing environmental regulations.

Bismarck Teabune

This award-winning, passes-for-journalism-in-North-Dakota mush reminds me of something in the Farewell Column written by past-editor Lee Morris of the Valley City Times Record back in 2011.  Remember that?  Morris snuck his good-bye column into the newspaper by putting a fake title and author at the top, but then wrote an honest piece about how his corporate masters were demanding that the paper produce "more coverage on events such as Chamber of Commerce luncheons and ribbon-cutting ceremonies" (more here) and that he couldn't continue to pretend he was producing real journalism under those circumstances. Then Morris promptly resigned. Today we get to watch the Bismarck Tribune's "reporters" write about social events hosted by MDU that pretend to be "fundraisers" for ALEC. 

So what's the truth?  The truth is that ALEC is -- and should be -- scared to death to come back into North Dakota to do more lobbying, like it always does, because it accidentally admitted it was lobbying in 2009. The truth is ALEC lied on its 2009 tax return.  The truth is they haven't been prosecuted -- to my knowledge -- and that's probably because the IRS and/or the Justice Department is afraid of being accused of engaging in politics. Legislators won't be paying $250 to attend this fundraiser.  They just won't. The truth is the corrupt ALEC organization is trying to recover from its "rough spot" in North Dakota. The truth is that we're not getting the news from our "newspapers."  And we should all be upset by this.

But we're not. 

We're too busy listening to knuckleheads on the radio complaining about how the Democrats think even poor people should have access to health care. We're too busy focusing on hater(s) in Leith. We're all mad that the federal government's website isn't able to enroll in private health insurance the people Republicans don't want enrolling anyway.

Benghazi!

Maybe we don't deserve anything better than the nonsense we get from the Bismarck Tribune.  Maybe Nick Smith is serving us the crap sandwich we deserve.

Someone on DailyKos suggests North Dakotans ought to organize a protest.  What are you going to do about it?

(For more on ALEC, read this report from the American Association for Justice. NorthDecoder is cited in several endnotes (e.g. 1, 36, 37, 47). That's because we sniffed out (some of) ALEC's corruption in North Dakota and broke the illegal-lobbying story.)

 
#BreakingNews
Written by Chet   
NotNewsCraig Cobb woke this morning to find lawn 12" longer than neighbor's. Lauren Donovan en route 2 Leith w/ 2 notepads, extra pens, GPS & flashlight. 2nd Idiot Summit Postponed. #BisTrib #NotRealJournalism
 
President Obama Is Invited To North Dakota
Written by Chet   

Join Our BlowoutNorth Dakota's Tea Party, anti-Farm Bill, anti-Social Security, pro-shutdown Congressman Kevin Cramer issued a press release this morning, to let all of us know he has invited President Obama to visit North Dakota.  I've decided to do the same, only I'm going to try to be a little more honest about all of it.  Here goes...

Dear Mr. President,

There is a place in America where Republicans' vision of a corporatist/fascist paradise is a reality. Plus, we're almost done eliminating the pesky wildlife.

It is a place where a new groundbreaking takes place nearly every day, much of it in formerly pristine habitat, and where the signs at all the minimum-wage burger joints say “now hiring” instead of “going out of business”. As has always been true here, anybody can come to North Dakota, get three part-time jobs at poverty wages, struggle to find afforable housing, and still qualify for food stamps!

It is a place where oligarchs in the energy, agriculture, technology, and manufacturing industries thrive, providing a few executive level positions for people in Oklahoma and Texas, many medium to high-wage jobs for people who need that money so they can give most of it back to their employer/landlords as rent, and countless starvation-wage jobs for our citizens and those we welcome from around the world. 

This used to be North Dakota, and I invite you to see it for yourself while the air is still just-barely safe enough to breathe.

You campaigned here before you became President and before Republicans sold the state to a billionaire oil baron, and a lot has gotten worse. While you've been successfully repairing all the damage done by Republican "tinkle down" economics, North Dakota Republicans have been literally burning off our rich natural resources in exchange for a few gold coins and a long, state-wide future as America's Mordor-like cancer cluster theme park. While progressives claw and scratch to get the media to fairly cover the countless stories about it, North Dakota has nearly tripled the amount of natural gas we flare, producing emissions equivalent to more than two medium-sized coal-fired power plants and looking like a huge metropolitan city (from space). We also proudly call ourselves a conservative "red state" while simultaneously bragging of socialized enterprises including a State Bank and a State Mill and Elevator, as well as a little-known illegal socialized public-records-selling service. Meanwhile, housing is getting so unaffordable in parts of the state, that some governmental entities are resorting to operating socialized housing for public employees because it's becoming unaffordable for the people they hire, for example, to afford to live in anything but government-owned FEMA trailers.

Mr. President, you have seen the headlines about the rapidly escallating crime rate in North Dakota, and I know your advisors have briefed you on human trafficking of, by and to our citizens. Several of your cabinet officials have traveled here, and we are grateful for their visits though they inconveniently force our oil company overlords and state officials to cover-up huge oil field blowouts near our one national park while your cabinet officials are in the area

But I believe the significance of the North Dakota story requires a visit from the President himself before this great state becomes uninhabitable. And what better way to assure a nation your first priority is job creation than to visit the state creating a cancer-cluster, crime-riddled, wildlife-free, corporatists' paradise faster than anywhere else?

I want to show you production that exchanges our safe, rich, habitable state for relatively short-lived temporary American energy security.

I want to show you our endangered agriculture industry and introduce you to the farmers and ranchers feeding (oil-soaked?) Monsanto-patented GMO crops to a hungry, unsuspecting world.

I want to introduce you to our debt-burdened college students confident there might be a job for them after graduation, if the air quality doesn't continue its death spiral and crime doesn't scare them away.

I want to show you our coal operations in some of the nation’s most rapidly declining air quality, and see if you can tell the difference between untouched acres and the Custer Mine State Game Management Area east of Garrison, along Highway 83, or the well-pad and well-access-road beleaguered area along Lake Sakakawea straight north of Keene, North Dakota.  Or any olympic-pool-sized toxic fracking waste pit.

And nearly everyone you meet along the way will have an Albuteral inhaler and a "The Koch Brothers for President" bumper sticker.

I and my staff -- well, I, anyway -- stand ready to work with your team on every logistic, and a travel schedule which maximizes your time.

Please visit North Dakota to see what Mordor looked like before it looked like Mordor. The flap on our hasmat tent is open and waiting.

For now.

Chad

editor

@northdecoder.com

Which letter is more honest?  Mine? Or Tea Partier Kevin Cramer's?

 
Dear EcoNews: Bullshit Headlines Don't Help
Written by Chet   

An "EcoNews" headline jumped out at me this morning.  The headline read "Internal Documents Reveal Coverup in North Dakota Oil Spill."  

"Wow," I thought to myself. "I've seen some internal documents, and they don't 'reveal' the coverup I personally believe went on after the recent massive oil spill near Tioga, North Dakota."  

So I read the story.  You should too.  Here's an excerpt (and a link to the whole thing, if you want to read it.)

Possibly Knew Their Pipeline was Dangerously Weak

Tesoro ran tests on the pipeline that ruptured more than two weeks before the spill was discovered.

A robot, known as a “smart pig,” detected weaknesses in the pipeline on Sept.10 and 11. Tesoro claims that they did not have ample time to digest the data before the spill, but Tesoro employees on the ground tell a different story. Furthermore, once the pipeline spill was discovered, Tesoro dispatched crews to check two other sites on the pipeline for leaks, indicating they were aware of potential fail points in the pipeline.

EcoWatch.com

And that's probably the most damning "reveal" in the whole EcoWatch story.  There's other stuff, sure, but nothing that really "reveals" a cover-up.  And it's kind of not even accurate. The internal documents show Tesoro had done some testing in the general area where the spill occured, but those records don't conclusively show that Tesoro had specifically tested the pipe at the location of the Tioga spill. It's just not clear. So it doesn't "reveal" a "coverup" or anything else, really.

Don't get me wrong here, either; I totally believe there was a cover up. Yeah, I wrote that: I believe North Dakota government officials participated in a cover-up of the Tioga oil spill.  The problem is that every one of the workers at the State Health Department probably has three standing job offers to go to work for some corrupt oil field service company right now, and those job offers would dry up in a heart beat if they told the truth in an email they KNOW can be obtained through a simple open records request from any schlep at Greenpeace or the New York Times. Or me. This is one more reason why we need an ethics commission in North Dakota. 

But EcoNews does noone any good with the headline that says something that -- while likely true -- they can't even prove in their own story.

NorthDecoder is here to provide a service.  The EcoWatch story links -- in a couple places -- to some of the "internal documents" that "reveal" a coverup in North Dakota.  By coincidence, I suppose, I requested all the same documents Greenpeace requested. And I'm not going to selectively give them to you, redacted, like Greenpeace and EcoWatch did. I'm just going to give you the whole banana.  This all comes from a public records request made to the ND Department of Health. It's all public record. I'm redacting nothing because any citizen could get all this same information if they just sent a request for it.

North Dakota Department of Health Public Records relating to Tioga Oil Spill

 
A North Dakota Obamacare Technology Comparison
Written by Chet   

WSICompsRepublicans are outraged -- OUTRAGED!!!, I say -- about the fact that uninsured people are having trouble with getting enrolled to buy insurance on the healthcare exchange Republicans despise so much. (Good God, I hope the irony in that last sentence isn't lost on people.)  They're mad that the incredibly complex, 36-state insurance exchange system -- with income and identity verification systems built into it -- isn't working perfectly, while being overloaded with uninsured applicants trying to use the systems. Republicans are calling for the firing of administrators responsible for overseeing the contracts with vendors hired to set up the complex IT system.

So this big dust-up about the problems with the technology behind the ACA implementation got me thinking about stuff in North Dakota. What about North Dakota Republicans? Are they outraged? Do they get outraged when IT projects don't go exactly as planned? Do we have anything comparable -- on a North Dakota scale -- here in North Dakota?

And, yeah, we do. 

Remember how North Dakota's Workforce Safety & Insurance (WSI) is years behind on a big IT upgrade?  WSI hired a company called "Aon" to overhaul its computer system back in 2007. The project had a scheduled, original completion date of December 31, 2009, and a budget of $14 million. Here's a snippet from a Bismarck Teabune story from January of this year...

The company had been under contract with WSI since 2007 to overhaul its computer system. The project had an original completion date of Dec. 31, 2009, and its total budget was $17.8 million, up from $14 million when work began.

“To date, WSI has spent about $17 million in total project costs. I’m very, very disappointed with that number,” [WSI CEO Brian] Klipfel said.

Bismarck Tribune

So the project is now four years behind schedule and 27% over budget.  And WSI's CEO is just "disappointed"? 

Remember all the Republicans calling for Klipfel's head?  Remember the NDGOP's top officials calling for Klipfel to "resign or befired"!?!  No? Didn't think so. That's because it never happened.

Dude is lucky he's not fired. He's lucky he's not been identified as a Democrat. RNC Chariman RNC PR BS is demanding Kathleen Sebelius resign or be fired as HHS director because of the problems with the Affordable Care Act website. So is Mittens Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan. So are various other Republican chowderheads. That's because moran Republicans think technology is easy and accountability is necessary for Democrats only.

(Speaking of accountability, have you heard anything about congressional hearings on America getting lied into a war in Iraq? No? Me either.)

And the WSI computer system overhaul isn't the only North Dakota state government computer overhaul where rabid, partisan asshats could point the finger and say some department head ought to be fired or resign. 

Yeah, it's too bad the ACA roll-out didn't go perfectly. Yeah, lots of things need work. But that doesn't mean Sebelius (or Klipfel or other North Dakota agency heads who've overseen huge, failed IT projects) should be fired. They just need to do their jobs. And the obstructionists certainly aren't offering any help. No, hater's gonna hate; obstructionist is gonna obstruct. Maybe it'd be easier for Sebelius to do her job if she didn't have mutton-heads demanding she -- and other people who have better things to do -- waste time being interrogated by them in some congressional committee.

Just a thought.

 
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