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Concerns about oil bipartisan

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opinion Jamestown, 58401
Jamestown North Dakota 121 3rd St NW 58401

The North Dakota Republican Party playbook has a new page this campaign season. Republicans are trying to make a case that North Dakota Democrats want to divide the state (a “wedge” issue) by criticizing the majority party’s policies regarding the Bakken oil boom. The Republican boilerplate, as reflected in nearly every comment coming from GOP legislators, candidates for state office and from Republican allies in the private sector, is that criticism of any aspects of oil development, or of the way the Republican-dominated Legislature and Republican state officeholders have responded to the oil boom, is a purely partisan strategy.

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It’s not.

The issues confronting the state as a result of unprecedented oil and gas development in the west are not merely about partisan politics. Concerns about how revenues generated by the boom have been used or not used to ease impacts of development in oil communities are legitimate and cross party lines. It’s also a chorus of pleas from local oil country officials (mostly Republican) for more help.

No less than state Republican Chairman Bob Harms suggested a few months ago that oil development might be moving too fast. Republican Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem championed an “extraordinary places” policy as a way to protect the state’s most treasured lands and waters. Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican the last time we checked, endorsed the concept of Stenehjem’s initiative, saying “we’ve got to find a way to do this.”

And among the voices criticizing what has been characterized as not enough help from the Legislature are Republican lawmakers who represent oil communities. They are, in effect, saying precisely what Democratic legislators have been saying for months. And party affiliation aside, they all are right.

There is no honest “wedge” issue in this, no matter how Republicans try to characterize it as such. Fact is, the majority party has been in charge for a long time, so it stands to reason they are responsible for policies affecting the people of oil country – for good or ill. As more North Dakotans understand the downsides of industrial-style oil and gas development, they are seeing more of the ill. It doesn’t matter whether the eyes belong to a Republican or a Democrat.

After all, exploding tank cars near Casselton are nonpartisan. Crude oil spilling into the river confluence near Williston is not political. Illegal dumping of radioactive waste in an abandoned gas station at Noonan is not about partisan loyalty.

Republicans who care more about their party than their state apparently don’t get it.

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