FARGO, N.D. — North Dakota officials should be negotiating a solution with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe over the Dakota Access oil pipeline, the state’s three candidates for governor said Monday during their third and final debate.
Republican Doug Burgum, Democrat Marvin Nelson and Libertarian Marty Riske agreed that the tribe has good reason for being upset about the way the state has handled the controversy over a pipeline that Standing Rock residents say is a threat to their water source. The candidates met in Fargo on Monday afternoon for The Prairie Public Broadcasting debate, which was to be aired Wednesday at 8 p.m.
“Everything is just done through innuendo and through the news media and stuff … instead of actually sitting down and becoming humans to each other and talking face to face,” said Nelson, an agriculture consultant and state representative from Rolla. “No one’s actually seen if there’s a solution to this that would be mutually acceptable.”
Said Burgum, “I agree with Marvin that there is a big opportunity for enhanced dialogue here, particularly among the people who are citizens of North Dakota.”
The $3.8 billion pipeline would carry oil from North Dakota’s oil fields through South Dakota and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Illinois. Except for the section in southern North Dakota, it is largely complete. Thousands of people have protested there in recent months, and nearly 125 people have been arrested since mid-August.
Burgum and Nelson didn’t agree on what led to the stalemate. Nelson attributed many of the problems to a “bad siting process” organized by the state Public Service Commission and said that while the tribe was asked about heritage sites, they weren’t consulted about their water. Burgum said the siting process was a “thorough and lengthy” effort.
“Absolutely they have a point,” he said of the tribal members, “and as all citizens they do have an option, they have a voice, in the due process that’s gone on.”
Burgum, an entrepreneur and former Microsoft executive who lives in Fargo, said he talked to Standing Rock Tribal Chairman David Archambault II last week and listened to his concerns, but he wasn’t specific about what the Sioux leader said.
Riske, a Fargo businessman and entrepreneur, and Burgum blasted the federal government for ordering pipeline construction halted under and around Lake Oahe, near the reservation, and asking pipeline owner Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners to put work on hold within 20 miles on either side of the lake.
Burgum said the dispute has become a “political battle” that has become larger than the original complaint about the planning process.
“This isn’t going to get resolved without the federal government taking a different position,” Burgum said.
The candidates also discussed ways to deal with budget woes due to low oil and commodity prices. Burgum said the state should use a zero-based budgeting process that focuses on “where does the first dollar go, not just the last dollar.” Nelson has no problem with that model for controlling spending, but said the Republican party has ignored the people’s wishes on taxes.
“The people voted a few years ago not to cut income tax and yet the leaders of the majority party continually cut income taxes,” Nelson said. “We don’t want to make the mistake of the ’80s where we shove the responsibility back to local property taxes.”
Riske said it’s time to establish independent audits on a regular basis.
“This is how we identify how to cut the budget precisely instead of doing the reactionary across-the-board cuts we have been doing,” he said.