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Our view: Soybean plant’s arrival is all the more reason to expand natural gas in eastern North Dakota

Gov. Burgum believes it will not only provide jobs and economic impact for the immediate region, but it also will boost the basis for soybean producers.

Herald pull quote, 12/17/22
Herald graphic
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Some Minnesota Republicans aren’t pleased that a massive agribusiness project has decided to abandon plans to build in northwest Minnesota, near Crookston.

On Dec. 5, Epitome Energy said it will build on the northwest edge of Grand Forks, in North Dakota. CEO Dennis Egan told the Grand Forks Herald that the change came after the permitting process in Minnesota stretched for 16 months.

“Due to a grindingly slow regulatory process by the (Gov. Tim) Walz administration, we just lost many well-paying jobs, millions of dollars of investment in our local economy, revenue for our local schools and desperately needed property tax relief,” said state Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks. “North Dakota Gov. (Doug) Burgum once again stepped up to snatch another promising business from Minnesota while the (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) and the Walz administration push away growth and progress for our communities.”

Another legislator from the region, Republican Rep. Deb Kiel of Crookston, said she is “deeply disappointed that the governor’s administration is dragging their feet on this project, which has now cost Minnesotans both jobs and agricultural resources.”

Did the Walz administration – and what appears to be a slow effort of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency – really cost Minnesota this plant?

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And amid the accusations, Gov. Walz isn’t explaining – at least not to the Herald, which has sent two requests to the governor’s office without an answer.

That leaves us to hear the comments from others. Some – like Johnson and Kiel – are outright blaming Walz and his administration. In North Dakota, top officials are not necessarily gloating, but are pleased the state’s processes appear to be attractive to big business.

“You have to move quickly on the permitting. If you have a regulatory environment that slows down people’s ability to deploy capital when they want to, they will go to places where they can deploy their capital sooner,” Burgum told the Herald in an in-person interview. “If you want to build a plant and the economics are starting to work and there is a market for soybean oil and you’re going to spend that kind of money, you want to get the plant built now because you know the market is going to pay now. You don’t want to wait two years and hope the plan is still working.”

Burgum passed credit to others and said he’s “cheering for them” as it appears North Dakota is on the verge of landing another big soybean processor in a state that is increasingly producing soybeans. He believes it will not only provide jobs and economic impact for the immediate region, but it also will boost the basis for soybean producers. And, he said, it will help remove soybeans from political trade battles with other countries.

Now, getting natural gas to the region becomes even more important, and it should be a legislative priority in the coming session. At present, Grand Forks has access to natural gas but probably not enough to fuel future big-business projects. It’s likely the same in other eastern North Dakota communities.

North Dakota, the governor believes, has a “combination of the right policy framework, the right infrastructure, the right pro-business approach and the right pro-ag approach. It’s exciting.”

For North Dakota, it sure is. And with that policy framework in place, what’s left is expansion of the fuel that can spur future growth. It’s all the more reason for the Legislature to push, in the coming session, for more natural gas for the eastern half of the state.

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