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Port: One lawmaker's petty feud with Gov. Burgum puts North Dakota's economic wellbeing at risk

"The debate over a carbon pipeline serves as cover for Rep. Jeff Magrum's vindictive campaign against Burgum."

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Thrn-Rep. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, stares down Gov. Doug Burgum as the Republican governor enters the House of Representatives chamber on Nov. 8, 2021. Magrum was elected to the state Senate in 2022.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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MINOT, N.D. — Over the last few decades, North Dakota has prided itself as being a place that's open for business.

The over-zealous regulation and miasmas of ideological obstructionism that are so often roadblocks to industry and commerce in other states are less of a problem here, and that's on purpose. Our governing philosophy here, over three decades of Republican control of state government, has been rooted in the idea that North Dakotans have a right to use their land to create opportunity and prosperity for themselves and others.

Sen. Jeff Magrum, less a principled conservative than a populist firebrand with an ax to grind, didn't get that memo.

In a fit of legislative monomania, driven in no small part by his vendetta against Gov. Doug Burgum, Magrum has filed no fewer than eight bills targeting the carbon capture industry .

Magrum would no doubt tell us that he's taking a stand for property owners and property rights, but if that were true, his bills, dealing with concepts like eminent domain and pore space, wouldn't be limited to targeting carbon pipelines and carbon capture projects.

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Are property rights only of concern when we're talking about a carbon pipeline backed by the governor? That's a fair conclusion from reading Magrum's list of bills.

Summit Carbon Solutions, which is in the process of developing the Midwest Carbon Express Pipeline , is one of the pioneers in an emerging carbon capture and storage industry in our state . Burgum is, rightly, an enthusiastic promoter of carbon capture and storage, both as a way to bolster our existing emissions-heavy agriculture and energy sectors and as a new industrial sector bringing jobs and prosperity to our state in its own right.

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Magrum, meanwhile, is motivated by pique. He was one of the lawmakers Burgum singled out for defeat in the Republican primaries last year. His ham-handed efforts, mostly carpet-bombing Magrum's constituents with mailers , backfired. Now Magrum, who no informed observer could rightly describe as sophisticated, is out for a crude sort of legislative vengeance and isn't afraid to put a damper on our state's economy in the process.

Building pipelines in North Dakota is no new trick. We already have thousands of them. Even a carbon pipeline isn't a novel venture. The Dakota Gasification Company has been operating a 205-mile pipeline moving carbon to Canada for over two decades, since 1999.

Those projects were constructed satisfactorily under North Dakota's existing laws, which makes one wonder why we need Magrum's legislation.

Constructing a pipeline is a complicated task, all the more so because it requires buy-in from individual landowners, not all of whom are enthusiastic about it. Complicating matters in North Dakota is that Summit, using some aggressive tactics, got off on the wrong foot with many landowners. Politically, their project is also facing headwinds from ideologues in the environmental movement who hate carbon capture because it will make coal and gas plants competitive with wind and solar.

Now comes Magrum, a rank opportunist who is using the political and regulatory complexities of Summit's endeavor as cover for his personal quarrel with the governor.

This is not unlike the motivations of deep-pocketed activist groups that promoted violent protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. That months-long conflagration was only superficially about the safety of the pipeline. The real motivation was simply deterring the build-out of fossil fuel energy infrastructure.

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A policymaker less invested in a personal agenda than Magrum is might recognize what a risk these bills, if they pass, would portend for North Dakota's reputation as a place where things get done. Not to mention our need to pave a path into the future for our energy and agriculture sectors, which are key to our state's prosperity.

Ironically Magrum, who can often be caught preening himself as a sort of paragon of conservatism, is being rooted on in these efforts by a lot of people on the left who would like to see North Dakota energy and agriculture industries crippled.

Summit's project deserves scrutiny.

Property owners should see their rights protected.

The adults in Bismarck should have that debate, and eschew Magrum's pie-throwing contest.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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