Conrad outlines bipartisan work to craft new energy planGRAND FORKS — Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said it will take a bipartisan approach and willingness to compromise to solve two of the country’s biggest issues: getting a handle on the growing debt and reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil.
By: Ryan Johnson , The Dickinson Press
GRAND FORKS — Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said it will take a bipartisan approach and willingness to compromise to solve two of the country’s biggest issues: getting a handle on the growing debt and reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil.
Since announcing earlier this year that he will not seek re-election in 2012, Conrad has focused much of his time on work with the so-called Gang of Six, a bipartisan group of six senators, to develop a comprehensive plan to cut the nation’s deficits by about $4 trillion over the next decade.
But he used a Tuesday visit to the Energy and Environmental Research Center at UND to discuss his latest bipartisan effort to reshape America’s energy future and slash the country’s dependence on foreign energy.
“This has been a contentious period in Congress,” Conrad said. “But I believe such a plan can attract very strong bipartisan support and provide a clear path forward for developing all of our energy resources and really changing America’s economic position in the world.”
Conrad said America is now “dangerously” dependent on foreign oil, importing more than 60 percent of its petroleum in 2010 and relying on unstable countries to supply its energy needs.
“This is a matter of national security,” he said. “This is a matter not only of our military security; this is a matter of our economic security.”
Conrad and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., teamed up to tackle the problem and have organized a new bipartisan group that now includes 14 senators — seven Democrats and seven Republicans — and is expected to gain more members in the coming months.
The two senators have worked together in the past and both are key leaders of the Gang of Six’s ongoing work to develop a deficit reduction plan.
Conrad and Chambliss also called together a bipartisan group of 20 senators in 2008 to develop a comprehensive plan to cut the country’s dependence on foreign oil. Their work resulted in the $84 billion New Energy Reform Act.
He said the new group has agreed to go back to work to “bolster” that plan in the hopes of building support and passing comprehensive legislation.
Conrad, in the middle of a three-day tour across North Dakota during the Easter recess, told employees that he wanted to visit the EERC to get feedback and hear the latest on the center’s “world class” research — information that will be used to finalize energy legislation that he plans to introduce in the Senate early next month.
But that won’t be the final energy bill, he said, and his legislation is meant to serve as a “template” that the bipartisan group will work to develop.
Conrad said the bill, which isn’t completed and doesn’t yet have a final price tag, will aim to “dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil” with several initiatives that could be influenced by the EERC’s ongoing research into the next generation of energy production.
One of the plan’s goals is to help advance new vehicles and alternative fuels, work that the research center is focusing on as it develops hydrogen fuel technology that could help integrate cutting-edge hydrogen filling stations across the country to power the next generation of vehicles.
Another goal, Conrad said, is to increase domestic oil and gas production. North Dakota is a part of that, and the state has more than tripled its oil production since 2007, he said.
But research by the EERC could boost that number even more in western North Dakota’s Bakken formation, as well as big oil plays across the world, by using carbon dioxide to extract even more of the oil that’s trapped underground.
Conrad said the “hard reality” is that the country now has a divided federal government, with Republicans in control of the House while Democrats control the Senate and White House.
“That means there’s only one way things are going to advance and that’s if we stand shoulder to shoulder together,” he said. “That means compromising.”
Johnson is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.