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Excerpts from recent North Dakota editorials


BISMARCK, North Dakota — The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Oct. 12, 2014

EPA's proposed water rule overreaches

On March 25, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a proposed rule that would expand its authority under the Clean Water Act.

In 1972, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, banning the discharge of pollutants from a point source into navigable waters, or "waters of the U.S.," without a federal permit. Since that time, both the EPA and corps have continuously sought a broader interpretation of waters covered. In effect, they want more control.

The recent proposed rule as written would significantly increase the scope of waters the EPA has jurisdiction over in the United States, and include man-made bodies such as ditches, canals and ponds that drain into currently defined U.S. waterways.

The EPA defines those waters as ephemeral streams or lands that look like a stream during periods of heavy runoff, wetlands and season ponds. Even if water is present only during parts of the year — during spring or wet cycles — they would fall under EPA jurisdiction under the new proposed rule.

Agricultural interests in particular would face significant challenges, especially during years with above-average precipitation. The effect the new rule would have on land use would be significant, and costly to the farming and ranching community. It would undoubtedly hinder a producer's ability to make land-use decisions and improvements that enhance crop and livestock production.

The mission of the EPA Clean Water Act — protecting U.S. waterways — is sound in principle and makes sense. Keeping the nation's waterways clean and free from pollutants is needed. However, the attempt by the EPA to expand waters covered is a classic case of government overreach.

Understandably, agricultural organizations, including the Farm Bureau, are fighting the proposed rule, citing the negative effect it would have on agriculture. The rule would extend beyond farming and ranching, inhibiting business development of any kind if interests were held on land features not currently covered under the Clean Water Act.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., has expressed his concern, saying the EPA's proposed Waters of the U.S. rule is "a real problem." He made the comment during a recent U.S. Cattlemen's Association and Independent Beef Association of North Dakota conference in Bismarck. Referring to the EPA attempt to enact the proposed ruling, he also stated it was "going around Congress."

Industry of any type needs to act responsibly and be good stewards to the environment. That cannot be overlooked when developing any resource. At the same time, overregulating and unfairly compromising private land-use practices isn't a reasonable approach either.

Common sense dictates that the new proposed ruling, as Hoeven states, in fact goes too far. We agree.

Minot Daily News, Minot, Oct. 15, 2014

Vote 'yes' on Measure 2

Perhaps the easiest measure on the ballot in the Nov. 4 election is Measure 2.

The Legislature put the measure on the ballot not to change any existing law but to protect taxpayers in the future.

The statement of intent for the measure reads, "This measure would prohibit the state and any county, township, city or any other political subdivision of the state from imposing mortgage taxes or any sales or transfer tax on the mortgage or transfer of real property."

In some ways this measure is confusing because the tax the state is trying to prohibit does not currently exist. No government entity currently imposes a tax when property is sold or transferred.

But since some states do have the taxes, the Legislature felt it was important to put something in the constitution to protect taxpayers in the future.

And we agree.

Taxpayers in North Dakota currently pay income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes and other fees that go directly to local and state government coffers. With the state flush with cash due to the oil boom, no new taxes are needed. Even before the oil boom, North Dakota did a good job living within its means without the billions of extra money.

Historically, it is difficult for government entities to actually reduce spending. In many cases slowing the rate of growth is considered a tax cut. Since the oil boom will not last forever, the state and other government entities could be tempted to look for new tax revenue in the future.

By prohibiting a tax on the sale or transfer of property, we will be protecting taxpayers in the future.

This is a good idea, and we urge a "yes" vote on Measure 2.

The Williston Herald, Williston, Oct. 11, 2014

'The Overnighters' is an educational film

No town of similar size gets more national news coverage than Williston. That's what happens when you're one of the fastest growing communities in the country and in the heart of the biggest energy boom the nation has seen in decades.

Expect the scrutiny to get more intense with the theatrical release Friday of the documentary film "The Overnighters."

Californian Jesse Moss' movie is nominally about the plight of desperate blue collar workers who come to Williston to find work in the Bakken oil fields in an attempt to escape the grim economies elsewhere - only to learn jobs don't always grow on trees and locating affordable housing next to impossible. And while these important topics are addressed, "The Overnighters" is mostly about former Pastor Jay Reinke and his controversial decision to open Concordia Lutheran Church to homeless men (and a few women) who arrive in town jobless and homeless or who make too little to make rent here.

Through Reinke, Moss asks some important questions about government and a community's role in caring for our neighbors - even when those neighbors are down on their luck newcomers, many of whom have sketchy, even dangerous histories. Reinke is convinced the path he has taken his church down is the right one - even if it runs afoul of city code, and the feelings of many of the church's neighbors, leaders and congregants.

And make no mistake about it, "The Overnighters" is a documentary whose point of view is aligned with Reinke's do-this-regardless-of-the-fallout approach. Those who question - much less actively oppose - the program are represented as either ignorant, uncaring or greedy. The Herald itself gets cast as parochial, sneaky and sensationalistic. Reinke, meanwhile, is the enlightened, single-minded do-gooder who (it turns out) has demons of his own.

We wish Moss had given more prominent play to the many more moderate and reasoned Williston locals that had a part in this drama. Missing, too, was evidence that many who have come to this modern day Boomtown have found success - and housing.

In spite of its flaws and omissions, Moss' film is thought-provoking, emotional and, at times, riveting and we hope it prompts viewers to learn more about Williston and the many good things that are happening during this seminal time in our history.

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