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More than ‘growing pains’: Jenkinson bolsters conservation amendment in Dickinson speech

Press Photo by Katherine Lymn Author and Dickinson native Clay Jenkinson discusses the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks amendment Tuesday evening at Heart River Retreat in Dickinson.

Clay Jenkinson’s mom is a tough cookie.

But even she may leave Dickinson because of the dust, the crime and the rudeness — “what’s happening to her beloved hometown,” author and Dickinson native Jenkinson told a small crowd at the Heart River Retreat on Tuesday evening.

With optimism but an underlying sense of urgency, Jenkinson explained his support for the proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment as part of a larger talk on what western North Dakota is experiencing.

Jenkinson and Keith Trago, executive director of the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, frequently brought up the extraordinary places policy the North Dakota Industrial Commission had approved — albeit weakening it — on Monday.

When the Industrial Commission took private lands out of the new rule, Jenkinson said, “what we are left with is truly window dressing.”

Outlining what he labels myths of the oil boom, Jenkinson highlighted how this is not just another boom — with the technology of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, this boom could mean “the wholesale industrialization of northwest North Dakota and probably southwest North Dakota,” he said.

He also struck down the idea that western North Dakota is simply experiencing “growing pains” now. With traffic deaths and violent crime, he said, “I don’t think this can any longer be called growing pains. This is pain pain.”

So, Jenkinson asked, “What can we still do?”

Enter the amendment.

If successful, the amendment, which will likely be on the November general election ballot, would send 5 percent of the state’s share of oil extraction taxes to conservation efforts, like water quality programs, floodplain restoration, new state park creation or a conservation cover program.

A clean water, wildlife and parks commission made up of the same members that comprise the Industrial Commission — Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem — would be tasked with spending between 75 percent and 90 percent of the funds, which current estimates put at $75 million a year, according to Trego.

“It’s about making a significant investment for the future,” he said.

The group needs at least 27,000 signatures to get the amendment on the ballot, but it projects gathering about 40,000, Trego said.

In his speech, Jenkinson outlined other steps North Dakotans need to take to conserve the state amid rapid oil production. Oil-impacted counties and cities need absolutely every resource necessary to weather the boom, he said. “No penny-pinching.”

He called out state officials for being “insufficiently punitive” of companies or individuals that take part in “industrial negligence.”

Audience members brought up bridging the divide between western North Dakota, where oil impacts are felt, and the rest of the state, including the Capitol.

Jenkinson pointed out, however, that the people in the Red River Valley region may be some of the most receptive to a conservation effort.

“They will become natural allies to this fight,” he said.