We finally have some answers in the case of the mysteriously pulled North Dakota State University study into the economic impacts of rail delays, and they’re not pretty for Senator Heitkamp. Or NDSU for that matter.
For the uninitiated, back in early April Senator Heidi Heitkamp requested that NDSU take a look at what rail delays are doing for agriculture revenues. In late April NDSU sent Heitkamp a report finding tens of millions in lost revenues, but then we found out last week that NDSU had pulled the study just days after releasing it.
The university hasn’t exactly been forthcoming as to why they pulled it.
Yesterday I received a batch of emails about the study via open records request – I had asked for all emails between NDSU and Heitkamp’s office about the study – and we have some answers. But before we begin looking at emails, here’s Senator Heitkamp talking with Chris Berg from Valley News Live about why she continued to use the study after NDSU pulled it.
“Since they raised that caution with me,” Heitkamp tells Berg, referring to NDSU’s issues with the methodology, “I haven’t used the study. I didn’t use it before the [Surface Transportation Board].”
But between mid-May when Heitkmap was told about the problems with the study and early September when NDSU asked her again to stop using it, Heitkamp referenced the study repeatedly and as a result it got wide media coverage.
Heitkamp and her staffers seem to completely disregard NDSU’s concerns about the study. In fact, in the video above Heitkamp asserts that her office feels the study’s findings are still accurate. It all paints a picture of an opportunist politician more concerned about making headlines than getting the facts straight.
By the way, if you’re wondering why the study was pulled in the first place, look at page 3 of the embedded PDF below. Among other issues, the study assumed that the entire difference in crop revenues from 2009-2010 to 2013-2014 was due to rail delays. “This is a strong assumption,” a memo sent to Senator Heitkamp about the problems with the study states.
The full batch of emails I received from NDSU is below. Because this has all become a little convoluted, here’s a timeline for what happened complete with screenshots from the emails.
April 9th, 2014: Heitkamp staffer makes formal request for study.
April 29th, 2014: Heitkamp’s office sent executive summary of study.
May 2nd, 2014: Heitkamp announces study in a press release on her Senate website. Study gets wide coverage in the media.
May 6th 2014: NDSU economist Frayne Olson touts the study on Valley News Live with Chris Berg
May 14th, 2014: NDSU tells Heitkamp’s office that study is being pulled
May 14th, 2014: Heitkamp staffer responds to study being pulled. “I don’t see how we can take them back.”
July 22nd, 2014: Heitkamp references study in press release without noting that it has been withdrawn