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Last Tuesday, 80 percent of North Dakotans voted “No” on the “North Dakota Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment,” also known as Measure 5. Proponents of the bill consider this a significant blow to the long-term health and a major victory for the state’s fossil fuel industry.

oilndIf passed, Measure 5 would have redirected five percent of the state’s oil extraction tax revenue to conservation efforts, the creation of parks, the improvement of fish and wildlife habitats, water quality and flood prevention. It would have imposed no new taxes on citizens and would have used the state’s oil development (currently earning $150 million per year) to improve roads, schools, law enforcement and emergency medical services. This would have been possible through the revenues generated by the public works and outdoor education programs enabled by Measure 5, an estimated $130 million per year.

But the measure was strongly opposed by the American Petroleum Institute (API), a Washington, D.C.-based oil industry lobbying group, which spent over $1 million to defeat it. An anti-Measure 5 campaign stated that the bill would increase farmland prices by buying up land and removing it from the market, that it would rob money from schools and other state development. The claims made by the anti-5 movement reached such a degree that North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks, a conservation group, sent a letter to the Burleigh County Sheriff that accused API of violating best campaign practices.

“The legislature long ago established certain legal standards for campaigning in North Dakota, and the ‘No on 5’ campaign has violated North Dakota law by repeatedly stating false information,” said SteveAdair, chairman for the Measure 5 sponsoring committee. “The pattern has been to lie, mislead and misinform North Dakota voters for the November election.”

As Evan Nelson, president of the Environmental Law Society at the University of North Dakota, told ThinkProgress last week, “This Measure is being fought by oil companies. There’s no more cogent opposition to Measure 5 than oil companies wanting to make more money. Careful reading of Measure 5, and common sense, led the Environmental Law Society to the conclusion that this is the right action and the right time.”

Even so, the measure was defeated by a wide margin in North Dakota, with ranchers and educational advocates highly skeptical of the bill. Republican Governor Jack Dalyrmple further complicated the issue when he announced a plan to invest $30 million in state parks and another $50 million on conservation efforts. Governing reports that the move, “was widely seen as a way to undercut Measure 5.”

ThinkProgress suggests that the oil industry opposed Measure 5 so forcefully because it would have made an attempt to roll back oil extraction taxes more difficult. Currently the tax is set at 6.5 percent. Last year, the industry attempted to reduce that to 4.5 percent, and, with Measure 5 out of the way and its anti-environmental machine in full swing, the industry will most likely try again soon.

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