ND energy policy of world importance: US House candidates vary position on government's role in growing sector
North Dakota's energy policy has never been more important to the nation or the world, something candidates from all political parties can agree upon in the upcoming election.
What part the government, particularly at the federal level, should have in North Dakota's energy industries is where the three candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives differ.
With the proper encouragement, North Dakota could surpass Texas to become the No. 1 oil producing state in the country, said Pam Gulleson, Democratic candidate for North Dakota's lone spot in the House of Representatives.
"By every trajectory, we're just going to be continuing to increase production, we know that," she said. "So the big challenge is how do we accommodate that?"
One of her opponents, Republican candidate Kevin Cramer, worries about regulation that punishes all those in the industry, and not just the abusers.
"Every law and every regulation is the result of someone's abuse," said the nine-year veteran of the Public Service Commission, which regulates energy industries like coal and pipelines. "The challenge is to not let that regulatory response to be a regulatory overreach."
The other candidate, libertarian Eric Olson, believes that the federal government should have no part in regulating any industry, and that it should be left to the state and local governments.
"It would serve the states best to manage their own energy resources," he said.
North Dakota has done a good job maintaining clean air standards while becoming one of the nation's leading suppliers of coal energy, said Gulleson, who has served as a state legislator and on former Sen. Byron Dorgan's staff.
Cramer agrees, although he worries regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency and other national agencies could stifle production in the state.
"Under the federal law, the state has jurisdiction over the Clean Air Act and regulating in the case of the coal plants," Gulleson said. "The state has done a very good job and all of the testing shows that we meet and, in fact, exceed the standards."
While Chicago has been nicknamed "The Windy City" for years, one of the nation's windiest cities is actually Fargo, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Chicago doesn't crack the top 25 list.
North Dakota is one of four states that produce 10 percent of their electricity from wind, Cramer said.
"Without a mandate, we don't mandate wind," he said.
Federal subsidies for any industry, be it oil or wind, are against libertarian philosophy, Olson said.
"Government should not pick winners and losers in business," he said.
Continuing to harness the breeze and build North Dakota's wind industry is part of her energy policy, according to Gulleson's official energy policy.
The state and federal government has a responsibility to build roads and help ease the housing crunch for those less fortunate, Gulleson said.
"The Legislature needs to appropriate funding for the state housing administration. They need to work with these communities," she said. "Affordable housing is the biggest challenge, and that's where the state and even the federal government, through (Housing and Urban Development) and (United States Department of Agriculture) Rural Development can be the most helpful."
For the most part, Cramer agrees, although he said he believes housing should be a free market and the government's greatest responsibility in housing is with the elderly who may be pushed out by rising rents.
"The government does have an appropriate role in protecting citizens who cannot, in no way, enjoy the fruits of the development," he said.
The state is responsible for building roads, with the exception of the interstate system, Olson said.
"To support all of this development, we've had to do some things that really work," Gulleson said.
North Dakota has a lot to showcase, she said.
"It used to be, when I was tourism director, North Dakota was the least visited state in the country and people would, when they'd find out I was from North Dakota, they would snicker," Cramer said. "Today, as an energy regulator, when I say I'm from North Dakota, it's like I'm Walt Disney. North Dakota has earned this incredible reputation and this remarkable brand as a place where people are doing it right."