Notes from Norm Wednesday October 19th: Go North Dakota Young Man
North Dakota is bordered on the east by Minnesota, on the west by Montana and on the south by South Dakota.
The 39th state, North Dakota was admitted to the Union in 1889 – and in its 53 counties there live over 672,000 people.
For those of us paying attention, North Dakota is nearly the only state in America that has avoided the kind of problems that have state budgets swimming in red ink, unemployment rates in double-digits, and near political paralysis in its government.
The state’s current unemployment rate is barely 3% -- there are thousands of jobs that cannot be filled because there are not enough workers – and, in a twist, North Dakota’s housing crisis isn’t because there are too many houses and not enough buyers.
It’s because there’s too many buyers, and not enough houses!
And,a rock formation called the Bakken, which spans 14,000 square miles in North Dakota, Montana, and Canada has nearly sprung an oil leak.
The U.S. Geological Survey says there are at least 4 billion barrels of recoverable oil, but in a story in the USA Today from August, 2011, those estimates are even being called into question.
"Clearly, it is the largest oil field we've found in North America in the last 40 years," said Bud Brigham, founder and CEO of Brigham Exploration, which has staked the company's future on the Bakken oil business. "If it's more than 15 billion barrels, it may be the biggest oil field found in America ever."
This is an economy so hot on the tracks right now that small towns throughout the state are growing more and more concerned about the growth of so-called “Man Camps” – temporary living quarters for workers who have flocked to the state who cannot find permanent housing, and are finding the need to live in camps while they work and wait for more housing options.
Along with this kind of growth come the struggles of more traffic, potentially more crime and more stress on the state’s infrastructure.
To the states’ credit, and the vision of its local, state and political leadership, they are focusing on addressing these infrastructure challenges by making sound investment that will support ongoing economic growth. And, public officials are being pro-active in working with the private sector to create safe environments for new workers who are arriving in the state, as well as those North Dakotans who have made the state their home for generations.
Additionally, in 2010, the state’s voters approved a “Legacy Fund”. This fund requires that 30 percent of the state's oil revenues to be deposited into the fund and that the money deposted into that fund cannot be withdrawn until 2017.
And, in order to withdraw funds, the Legislature is required to approve the withdrawal with a two-thirds vote in both chambers – and the state is only allowed to spend $15 million at one time if the withdrawal was approved by the Legislature.
This visionary approach to investing current day revenues for future needs is the type of sound governing philosophy that policymakers in Washington, and elsewhere in America, would do well to follow.
Interestingly enough, despite all of North Dakota’s current economic prosperity and the wonderful growth of domestic oil production that offers a more stable energy supply for our country, the federal government just can’t leave well enough alone.
More and more, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is causing more and more heartburn in the state as it tries to lump even greater regulatory burdens on the state’s energy industry.
In July 2011, the Bismarck Tribune reported that “The EPA will file a notice in the Federal Register on Aug. 18 that it, not the state Health Department, will decide how Minnkota Power Cooperative and Basin Electric Power Cooperative will reduce nitrous oxide emissions in Coal Country power plants.”
The paper goes on further to state “It will be the first time in regulatory history that the EPA takes over the state's authority to manage a federal program, in this instance federal regional haze rules specifically for the two power plants.”
We’ve seen this kind of regulatory kill-joy from EPA already, and in it is empowered by the Obama Administration. It not only threatens North Dakota’s economic prosperity, but is, in a significant way, part of the reason for the harsh economic conditions that Americans continue to face without adequate jobs throughout the country.
As the Governor of North Dakota points out, the EPA’s intervention will not only provide any particular environment boost – but will cost more money.
According to North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple:
“EPA’s plan would cost 14 times more than the state plan, and it’s not proven to provide any more environmental benefits. EPA’s plan would unnecessarily harm electricity consumers in North Dakota and neighboring states, the utilities that provide power to these consumers, and North Dakota’s entire economy…EPA’s plan frankly makes no economic or environmental sense.”
North Dakota is truly an inspiration for America. It is not only being a wise steward of the energy resources it has available, but is recognizing that long-term planning is critical for a diverse, robust economy.
In the process, it is estimated that North Dakota will become the number two state in America in providing domestic oil production for our nation – the kind of contribution to our national security that we should applaud.
But, it is also a cautionary tale for a nation struggling to recover from economic recession and the policies of an Administration that sees success as failure.
The Obama Administration sees the growth of North Dakota’s energy industry as just another thing that needs to be regulated and kept in check. Sadly, it’s this philosophy that has not only set back our nation’s ability to explore for more domestic sources of energy – but has also made it more difficult for our economy to create jobs for 14 million Americans without work.