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Other views: Watch for ho-hum list of ‘extraordinary places’

“Stenehjem says list of places for protection coming soon, but blogger criticizes ‘secret meetings’” read the subheadline on Sunday’s front page.

And that’s true as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go far enough.

Because if you read Jim Fuglie’s blog post all the way to the end, you’ll find he’s much more concerned with the content of Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s meetings than he is about their secrecy or format.

That’s because while Stenehjem supposedly is meeting to assemble a list of “extraordinary places” to protect from energy development, the participants he’s meeting with are heavy on development and light on protection.

Think of it this way, suggests Fuglie, former executive director of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, in his post on The Prairie Blog.

Who might North Dakotans reasonably expect to be on Stenehjem’s informal task force that’s assembling the list?

“I suppose we might expect the North Dakota Game and Fish Commissioner, the State Parks Director and the Director of the State Historical Society of North Dakota,” Fuglie writes.

“Well, we’d be expecting wrong. Because none of them are on it, nor is any one from their agencies.

“The three agencies in charge of the most important public lands and cultural and natural resources in the state aren’t represented.”

Instead, the participants include “an engineer whose firm is one of the biggest players in the Oil Patch, a couple of county commissioners from the Oil Patch, a newspaper columnist and scholar who writes frequently about the energy industry, one natural resources professional, the president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council and three lawyers — two of whom work for Stenehjem and one who’s retired but spent much of his career as an assistant attorney general.

“Oh, and the head of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission. …

“These are the people who are going to compile a list of places chosen for special consideration when drilling permits are requested.”

Yes, the meetings should be public. But Stenehjem is North Dakota’s resident expert on the Open Meetings law and strongly supports it.

So, regardless of whether the meetings “should” be public, the bottom line is that they don’t “have” to be, because they don’t fall under the law’s umbrella. That’s Stenehjem’s position, and Fuglie himself accepts it.

But here’s what North Dakotans should not accept: Judging by the makeup of Stenehjem’s panel, the list that results from the group’s meetings is likely to be thin and weak.

After all, participants “have already been presented a list that is much shorter than the one the Industrial Commission released earlier, and pretty much been told to stick to that list,” Fuglie writes.

“I’m going to give the attorney general some credit here for taking the lead on this whole issue of ‘special places.’ But his suggestion is starting to ring hollow. It was made way back in May, and now, five months later, it appears a new effort is just getting started, and a shallow effort at that.”

In short, worries Fuglie, the fix already is in, and North Dakota is destined to offer not-very-special protection to a bare-bones list of special places.

Here’s hoping Stenehjem himself reads the full blog post (or this editorial) — and resolves to prove Fuglie wrong.

The Grand Forks Herald’s Editorial Board formed this opinion.

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