Not so fast on SB 2327

Warning…political post ahead. But it’s worth a read, especially if you live in North Dakota.

I recently became aware of a bill that’s being pushed through the North Dakota legislature. And I’m not sure if the word “pushed” even gets close to describing how quickly it’s being hurried along. In fact, it only spent 90 minutes in committee on the Senate side before getting a “Do-Pass” recommendation. Not bad for a bill that’s 153 pages in length. (And yes, I’ve read the whole thing.)

Let me break down a few of my concerns:

  1. This bill creates, in essence, a state Environmental Protection Agency. I’m not sure yet if I’m for or against the creation of a state EPA, but I do know that it should take some time and thought in order to make sure it’s done right. Not just cut and paste certain sections of the existing century code and call it a day.
  2. This bill creates a new division of government. Yes, it’s true that there is already an existing Division of Environmental Health that exists under the Department of Health. This would take that department and make it its own division. Is there something wrong with the current system? Is there a benefit for the new division that we aren’t being made aware of? Grant dollars? Federal money? What’s the carrot for more government when a division already exists? I understand the desire to streamline. But when the department seems to be just a cut-and-paste model of what’s already in place…I don’t understand the point.

    All 153 pages of SB 2327 printed and reviewed.

  3. “Zero fiscal impact.” Come again? You’re going to create a new division of government…with no money? Yes, I know that the bill provides that “any special funds or accounts administered or under the control of the state department of health which relate to environmental quality functions transferred to the department of environmental quality must be transferred to the administration and control of the department of environmental quality.” (Engrossed Senate Bill No. 2327, lines 24-27, pg. 2) Which is a messy way of saying that any money appropriated for environmental stuff now moved into the new department will also be transferred to the department. But can you really start a new division of government with NO added expenses? Even if you just shuffle around existing employees – aren’t there extra costs? What about letterheads? Business cards? Office space? Compensation for council members? Not one more dime will be spent? I’m almost interested in seeing this pass, just to watch this happen. (Not really…that’s sarcasm.)
  4. Speaking of council. There’s a new one in town. The “Environmental review advisory council,” will be established, consisting of 11 members. All appointed by the governor. The members must be: a representative of county or municipal government; a representative of manufacturing and processing; a representative of the solid fuels industry; a representative of the liquid and gas fuels industry; a representative of agriculture; a representative of the solid waste industry; a representative of the hazardous waste industry; a representative of the thermal electric generators industry; a representative of the environmental sciences; the state engineer; and the state geologist. Energy is well-represented – and agriculture gets one seat at the table. Seems a little lopsided to me, for an agency that will dictate what a lot of agriculture will look like in the future.
  5. Did I mention the head of this new division will also be appointed by the governor? The director, as well as the council as a whole, will be appointed to serve “at the pleasure of the governor.” Environmental quality and the people will have no say in who will serve, except by vote of the governor. I’m sorry, but as our elected officials become more and more removed from agriculture, I am not comfortable relying on one person’s ability to know what is best for the diverse world of agriculture we are in. Can one person adequately represent the ranchers of Dickinson, the valley sugar beet farmers, organic growers, niche markets, wheat growers, hog farmers, dairy farms and everything in between? We can’t agree amongst ourselves most days – how would one person be able to encompass it all?

I could go on for longer, but you can read it all yourself if you’d like.

I’m all for streamlining systems and making government more efficient whenever we can…I just am not sure creating a new division will accomplish this. I’ve never seen a situation in which adding more government makes it easier to maneuver and understand. But maybe this would be a first.

Highlighters make me happy.

I’ve spent no less than seven hours studying, discussing and considering this bill. I printed 153 pages of text, made several calls and emails, and delayed my calving checks a few times because I was in a zone with reading and research. (Don’t tell Mark.) In all, I’ve already spent significantly more time than the committee did before issuing a DO PASS. And my monetary investment with printing costs and time spent is somehow more than the fiscal impact that this bill will have on my state.

Excuse me while I go check cows…at least out there I’m well aware of the dung I may step in. I hope I’ve given you a few things to think about. And if you’re just as concerned as I am, there will be a committee hearing for the House at 9 a.m. on Friday, March 3. Maybe your voice should be heard.

The Un-American American

The last month or so has been an amazing study on current American society. I’ve quickly realized that we have a booming problem of passive-aggressive social media outbursts, mostly proclaiming that people are not inherently political – and then they continue on with a political rant.

Pledge Allegiance

Every day during our last Mayo trip, George would stop and say the Pledge of Allegiance to this flag. He was only 6, and he gets it.

Let me be clear: I’m a political person. I enjoy politics. I have definite ideas of what I would like to see our country look like in the future. I want to be engaged, involved and abreast of the topics. I will tell you, straight up, how I feel. And not with vaguebooking.

Let me just get a few thoughts off my chest:

  1. You have the right to vote. Although I encourage you to exercise that right, guess what? It’s also your right not to vote. And when you choose not to vote, then I have the right to minimize your influence on my opinion. That’s how it works.
  2. If you don’t believe in the “process” of government, then why are you shocked when it doesn’t work for you? Get involved. Make it work. Understand.
  3. Guess what? Every American has elected officials that represent them at some level of government. We, as citizens, control who sits in those offices. Don’t like them? Vote for someone else. Encourage your neighbors to do the same (maybe make sure they’re in the same political district…I don’t encourage voter fraud. lol). Don’t like any of the choices? Run. Unless you can’t – legally. But if that’s the case, maybe you shouldn’t be protesting so loud.
  4. You have the right to protest. But you don’t have a right to endanger others while doing so. Including blocking school buses full of children, throwing homemade bombs at law enforcement and leaving a mess behind that others are forced to clean up. I’ll defend your right to protest. But when your protest damages the very environment you proclaim to protect? I question your authenticity.
  5. Have a complaint? Better have a solution to go with it. Complaining just to rant is fine. Just don’t do it on social media. That’s why everyone needs a BFF to rant to – Facebook is not your BFF.

I get it. Life is hard. Things don’t always go like we want. Our candidates may lose. Some laws aren’t passed. Budgets are cut. Spenditures may skyrocket. And we all should have an opinion on those things.

But let’s truly use the American rights we’ve been given. Because if we don’t – well, then don’t be surprised when the un-American Americans begin to take over.

For the Love of Bacon

* Correction made – it was brought to my attention that although permitted for 9,000 this pig farm will actually be home to up to 5,400 sows. They will farrow (have piglets) throughout the year. 

There are certain things that happen in my state, a state that I love dearly, that just makes me shake my head in awe and wonder. And recent events definitely qualify for shaking my head.

A family farm from Minnesota is moving forward with plans on starting a pig farm in North Dakota. They’ve located a site that follows all the state rules, guidelines, setbacks, etc. They’ve worked hard on dotting i’s and crossing t’s, and are in the final stages of getting set up. Oh, and did I mention that they run their farm like a business…like all of us that farm do, or at least should.

Except now we have people standing up in opposition, insisting that somehow this farm will destroy the dreams that they’ve had for peaceful living in a rural area. It’s truly a case of “not in my backyard.” Apparently many people forget that agriculture is still the backbone of our state. So let’s take a look at the numbers, shall we?

This pig farm will house up to 5,400 sows – with the average potential to almost double the number of pigs that our state raises to feed people. Remember that? Pigs are raised for food. Like bacon.

Local food is all the rage now. Many of the opponents to the pig farm are big proponents for local food. Right now the state of North Dakota has about 150,000 pigs that are used for food each year. The average pig brings 150 pounds of meat to the table…literally. According to statistics, the average person eats about 46 pounds of pork per year. This means that a pig generally provides a year’s worth of food for three people.

There are 739,000 people in the state of North Dakota. That means we would roughly need 34 million pounds of pork. We only produce 22 million pounds right now. So who doesn’t get bacon? Or pork chops? Or pork roast?

Oh, that’s right – local food is only important when it can be raised by “mom and pop” farms. “Family farms” quit being family farms once you consider it a business. And let me remind you, that this farm is a family farm. That term does not change regardless of size. And size does not determine the “friendliness” of a farm to its neighbors. They are good neighbors. Big does not mean bad.

Opponents claim that this is a direct result of changes made to our state’s anti-corporate farming law that relaxed restrictions in hog and dairy operations. But guess what? Rolling Family Farms ends with LLP, not LLC. That’s right, it’s a partnership, not a corporation. The changes to our law make no difference whatsoever.

But why should it matter? What happened to the ability to go into business when you’re following every rule and regulation already in place? What happened to the freedom of being able to develop a successful business model and moving forward? Apparently you can do so – but not with food.

Fair time, county fair, 4-H

A boy and his pigs. But not sustainable large-scale.

My farm raises pigs. This year we’re increasing our farm size to eight. I have four boys in 4-H and they will show pigs at the fair. But I can tell you that our business model for the pig-side of things is not sustainable.

I love bacon. I love agriculture. I love this state I call home. But we need to wake up and read the writing on the wall. We cannot continue to think that the old-fashioned way of doing things will sustain us long-term. We use new technologies in medicine, how can we not embrace the same changes for our dinner plate?

I support agriculture. I support food. I support choices. I don’t understand those that stand in the way.

Trust me, I have more to say…stay tuned.

 

Clean water, wildlife and parks – but dirty politics

Let me clarify a few things: First and foremost, I’m a mother. My four boys are my sun, moon and stars, even when they drive me crazy. On top of that, I’m a farmer, a rancher, an agriculture advocate, a student, a blogger, a paralegal, a softball player, a writer and someone who enjoys having a fun time. I am not an economist, a tax expert, a politician (yet), an accountant, a lawyer…none of those things.

boys on first day of school

I have four reasons for writing…and here they are.

So when I write, I write from the heart, I do my research and I write my opinion. It’s how I view the world, and the $18 per year that I spend on this site gives me the right to share those views as I see fit, within legal reason. If you want to point out what you see as flaws in my reasoning, I’m OK with that. But be careful what you wish for – because I like research. And I like information. And I like to share.

Recently one of my posts on Measure 5 apparently ruffled some feathers. I was told that my “pie analogy” was flawed. I actually find that funny, because one of the “Yes on 5” ads brings up the same analogy. Stating something along the lines that there’s still “enough to go around.”

He stated that this proposed constitutional amendment does not affect the general fund. I think he needs to double check that. Unless, of course, my research is all flawed. And it’s possible, since I’m not paid to do this professionally.

Check out the numbers yourself:

Oil Tax allocations for 2011-13 biennium

So that little issue should be answered. Yes, Measure 5 would seem to have an impact on the whole “pie” thing. But let’s say that wasn’t an issue. There’s still a lot of flaws here.

Let me check off my biggest concerns:

1) Mandated spending in our state constitution. How many times can I emphasize that this is a bad idea?

2) An extraordinary amount of money with no clear plan. It sets up a fund where money can be “granted” to projects that are approved by a board of people (only one is specifically a farmer).  $150 million per year. Almost $3 million per week. Yikes. I was told that it’s really not all that much money. I’m sorry, but as a mother of a child that has been diagnosed with a rare metabolic condition, I could only imagine what that type of money could do for research into a cure. Not that much money? I shudder to think of the type of world we’re heading towards, when you can scoff at that type of funding.

Yes, our family values the outdoors. But the type of funding tied to this constitutional amendment could change the world for a lot of kids in our state...including George's.

Yes, our family values the outdoors. But the type of funding tied to this constitutional amendment could change the world for a lot of kids in our state…including George’s.

3) I wonder if they forgot that our last legislative session passed a similar fund already. Oh, that’s right, though…they can’t buy land with that money.

4) We have some real needs in our state that this money can address. There are children with rare conditions that slip through the cracks. There is research that can be funded. There are advances that can be made.

I have no desire to get into a mudslinging fight. But I cannot put my children’s future at risk with this type of irresponsible mandate.

Do we really want to keep North Dakota’s traditions alive? Then let’s take care of the water, the air, the land the right way. Because it’s the right thing to do. That’s the North Dakota tradition.

My sunset tonight was just as beautiful as it was yesterday – and it will be beautiful tomorrow, too.

Measure 5 – Wrong for this Dakota

I’ve spent a lot of time recently talking to people about politics. I don’t mind, actually…in fact, if I can let you in on a little secret – I’m a bit of a political junkie. I love a good debate, and I enjoy crunching numbers and calculating polls. Yeah, I probably need to seek therapy.

But this Measure 5 that will be voted on in a few weeks in North Dakota has me worried. It’s not that I don’t think we can beat it – I’m pretty certain we will. What I’m worried about is that people really don’t understand what’s at the heart of the issue. And the only thing worse than someone that doesn’t vote, is someone that doesn’t understand their vote.

Let me try to explain: Measure 5, if passed, would take 5% of North Dakota’s share of the oil extraction tax and will set up a fund, where it will be mandated that at least 75% of the money must be allocated prior to the end of the fiscal year. It is a constitutional amendment.

Let’s just stop right there. The fact that this is a constitutional amendment should be enough of a cause for pause. This measure is intended to change the course of our state. Period. Our state constitution will mandate spending. Mandate. Spending. Is anyone getting this?

The amount of money is astronomical. We’re talking about millions per week. Per. Week.

But enough about that…I’ve already discussed that before.

Let me break this down a little further:

This mandated spending will come off the top. Imagine, if you will, that I have baked a pie. I give my oldest son a slice. Then when my other three boys come in the house, they ask about the pie. It would be pretty hard for me to convince them that the whole pie is still there. Yet, that’s exactly what the proponents of this measure are trying to do. They claim that it’s not taking money from other projects. But, when you take a piece of the pie, that piece is gone – no matter how hard you try to convince everyone that the whole pie is still there.

Big Bro passed his Hunter's Safety test this summer, which means this fall was his first year deer hunting. I bought him his own .243, along with hearing protection, and he had a great few days in the field - even though the amount of crop standing didn't help us out.

Big Bro passed his Hunter’s Safety test this summer, which means this fall was his first year deer hunting. I bought him his own .243, along with hearing protection, and he had a great few days in the field – even though the amount of crop standing didn’t help us out.

Listen – I love hunting. I love our parks. I’m a member of a few. I love wildlife. And I think they’re tasty, too. In fact, I just made pheasant for supper. I have no desire to see detrimental changes to our landscape.

But I will not saddle my children with a constitutional amendment that has no spending plan. I cannot vote for a measure that mandates spending in our state constitution. And I will not give my state an open checkbook to drive up land prices and wreak havoc with our property taxes.

Right now, EJ plays in the dirt...but I hope that someday he'll be able to farm in this great state. I'm doing my part to guarantee that. Will you?

Right now, EJ plays in the dirt…but I hope that someday he’ll be able to farm in this great state. I’m doing my part to guarantee that. Will you?

During the length of time allotted in this amendment, almost every acre of farmland could be purchased. I cannot vote for something that could possibly destroy what I love most about this state, and using tax dollars to do so.

Don’t worry. I’m not done writing yet.

A wolf in geese clothing

November is sneaking up on us…which means that it’s time to start thinking about what’s going to happen at the ballot box. And, let me tell you, as a North Dakotan, there’s a few things that have me concerned. Let me take a minute to explain to you one of my largest concerns:

The “Clean Water, Wildlife & Parks Amendment.”

Let me just say, that if it walks like a duck, and talks about ducks, doesn’t mean that it’s good for the ducks.

And it’s not good for North Dakotans, either.

gun, hunting

I love hunting. I love eating what I hunt. I will be hunting with my oldest son this year, something we are BOTH looking forward to.

Let’s start off with the obvious: this is a change to our STATE CONSTITUTION. That’s right. We’re to put a “tax” into our state constitution. A bad idea. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes any state can make is putting tax code into the constitution. Why? Because the constitution is meant to be a permanent, living, breathing document…and also not the easiest to change. We need to take any state constitutional amendment seriously. And this doesn’t belong here. Ever.

Second of all, check out the numbers:

  • $150,000,000 – the amount the fund would receive per year, right now
  • 75% – the amount that MUST be spent each year, according to the amendment
  • $2.8 million – the amount that the fund would receive each WEEK, right now
  • $4.8 BILLION – the amount the fund would receive in the next 25 years
  • $65,000,000 – the amount that ND already provides to conservation through the state legislature
  • 13 – the number of members of the advisory board who would provide funding recommendations
  • 1 – the number of farmer members on the proposed board
  • 0 – the number of spending plans proposed for this constitutionally-mandated fund

I don’t know about you, but those numbers don’t sit well with me.

How does a fund of this magnitude spend $2.8 million each week? Well, I checked out the website for the backers of the amendment…and it was pretty easy to see what the intentions for this money would be: to purchase land.

As the number of farms and ranches in North Dakota dwindles, and the age of farmers and ranchers increase, I cannot help but worry about the future of agriculture. My oldest son has already expressed a lot of interest in farming, yet if he has to compete with an entity that has an unlimited checkbook…well, how can he even begin to compete?

Waiting his turn...his dad is in the tractor, his grandpa is in the combine. Is his future in jeopardy?

Waiting his turn…his dad is in the tractor, his grandpa is in the combine. Is his future in jeopardy?

We talk about wanting to see small family farms make a comeback. We talk about wanting to see more young people involved in agriculture. Yeah…we do a lot of talking…but it’s time we put our votes where our mouth is.

Let’s address conservation funding where it should be addressed – legislatively.

This is a pile of deer carcasses that were collected from our hay yard a few years ago. Approximately 60-80 deer in this group. We had hundreds in our yard, and many died that winter. Less than a mile away was a parcel of land that was taken out of agriculture production specifically to provide habitat for wildlife. Yet it did nothing to "conserve" these animals.

This is a pile of deer carcasses that were collected from our hay yard a few years ago. Approximately 60-80 deer in this group. We had hundreds in our yard, and many died that winter. Less than a mile away was a parcel of land that was taken out of agriculture production specifically to provide habitat for wildlife. Yet it did nothing to “conserve” these animals.

I love hunting. I love fishing. I love wildlife.

But I love my farm. I love agriculture. And I love my children.

I’m pretty certain that Little Red Riding Hood’s mother wouldn’t have sent her out to the wolf, had she known what was going to happen. I have no intention of letting the wolf loose on my children’s futures, either.

I’m voting NO on the constitutional amendment.

Whatever floats your boat – #DitchTheRule

“Navigable waters.” According to the internet, the accepted definition is: “deep and wide enough for boats and ships to travel on or through: capable of being navigated.”

Apparently that’s true for everyone…but EPA.

The new proposed ruling for the expanded Clean Water Act from the EPA would become the most far-reaching regulations we’ve yet seen from this regulatory agency. It’s meant to clarify what is determined as “Waters of the US.” In essence, almost any place that water could collect could be subject to regulation and the permitting process.

The CWA was started in 1972 as a way to curb pollution into what was determined navigable water from a single source – without a federal permit.

Most people would probably be amazed at what all requires permission from someone else in order to simply do something…even on your own property. There are permits to build stuff, permits to take down stuff, permits to use water, permits to take away water – I’m sure there are probably even agencies that have permits in order for another agency to allow permits. The process is essentially the same. You apply, based on whatever rules and regulations have been drawn up. You explain why you should be allowed a permit to complete whatever action or build whatever structure you have planned. You present your application with the proper fee, determined by the regulatory board or by law, and you wait to hear back.

Here’s the catch: there is no legal right to be allowed a permit. That’s right, even if you dot your I’s and cross your T’s and pay the fees and fill out each form in triplicate and you state sound reasons as to why your permit should be granted and have science on your side, you may be turned down.  Because we all know that decisions don’t always make sense.

And you may not find out if you’ve been granted a permit or if you’ve been turned down for days, or weeks, or months – we all know how speedy the federal government works, right?

Using conservation and good stewardship is nothing new to our farm. We make decisions every day based on what we feel will be best for tomorrow.

Using conservation and good stewardship is nothing new to our farm. We make decisions every day based on what we feel will be best for tomorrow.

So let me try to wrap this up in a nut shell with a completely plausible scenario: Let’s say you’re a farmer that raises cattle, and cattle poop, and you want to use the natural fertilizer that you’ve been given. Let’s say that the field you want to fertilize has a low spot that collects water when it rains. Imagine now having to fill out paperwork and a permit in order to use that fertilizer near that low spot because it may collect water at some point in time?

So why use the fertilizer? Well, it helps your crops grow to their potential, it provides better grass for our cattle and it’s cheaper to use the product that nature is already providing. And remember, we’re talking about a spot that may/may not hold water at any point in the year. Yet the amount of water held isn’t in question. When the water is held there isn’t in question. It’s simply the ability for the ground to hold water that determines whether or not the CWA is applicable.

A single drop of water...is that all it would take?

A single drop of water…is that all it would take?

The good news? It’s not too late. The proposed rule changes are open to public comment through July 21 by visiting the website at http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm, or through the FBAct Insider page at: http://capwiz.com/afb/issues/alert/?alertid=63192396.

Laws and regulations that expand government reach and hurt our local economies will continue to be passed unless we’re willing to stand up and protect our rights for future generations. We need to let the EPA know that they need to #DitchTheRule.

My four boys drink from the hydrant in our yard. And there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to ensure that our water is safe for generations to come. Our family farm has been making improvements to our methods of farming for generations, not through regulations and laws, but through using common sense and stewardship.

The CWA was set up to protect places that could float a boat. My field is not such a place. My ditch is not such a place. My yard is not such a place. Not a single one of these places could float my boat…and neither does this rule.