Two candidates vying to serve on North Dakota’s Public Service Commission were at UND on Friday for a roundtable discussion on issues facing the state’s regulatory body. But the event played out to some extent like a debate, with Democratic-NPL challenger Brad Crabtree and Republican incumbent Kevin Cramer outlining the philosophical differences between the candidates.
It started off with some introductory comments. Cramer discussed what the PSC does and how it is dealing with recent additional authority that has come with western North Dakota’s oil boom. Crabtree explained his background experience and the issues he thinks will be important for the commission to tackle in the coming years.
There was some agreement between Crabtree and Cramer – both said they disagreed with U.S. House candidate Rick Berg’s proposal to drill for oil underneath national parks as a way of securing long-term funding for Social Security. But it wasn’t long before the differences between the two became clear, with the candidates clashing on topics like global warming, the need for energy efficiency incentives and the value of government subsidies for renewable energy. You can read more about the discussion in Saturday’s Herald or on the Herald website.
But there were some interesting topics that didn’t make it into my article.
Cramer told the crowd of about a dozen residents and UND students that what the state’s regulators say “is broadcast all over the country and the world, especially as it relates to investment. The incredible economic times we’re enjoying right now aren’t an accident. First of all, God’s graced us with incredible natural resources.” But that gift also comes with a “tremendous responsibility” to protect the state’s resources. Cramer said he lives with the environmental stewardship legacy of former Gov. Art Link “every day,” but thinks that legacy is something ingrained in the people of North Dakota.
I believe that that legacy largely is part of our culture and our heritage as people of the land, as farmers. I also believe, frankly, that thereâ€™s nobody better equipped to care for that land or who has a greater personal interest in the care for that land than the people who live on it. So my approach to regulation tends to be with a fairly light touch quite frankly. I study the issues quite thoroughly and quite carefully. But we are a state right now who enjoys the fastest growing personal income of any state in the country. We are a state that has the lowest unemployment rate of any state in the country, during a recession in case I need to remind you. We are blessed for sure with these natural resources, but a lot of other states are as well and theyâ€™re not enjoying our success. But that success is equally as fragile here as itâ€™s ever been.
Do you know for example is states like Montana, Wyoming, Colorado whose policies have largely kicked development out of their states, if they ever adopted some of our ideas, weâ€™d suddenly be in a much more competitive situation. All of a sudden, our cold winters would be a bigger factor for those who choose where to do development. I’m delivering an opening keynote address at an infrastructure development seminar down in Denver because they asked me to do this: ‘Would you come and speak to us about how you became the go-to place for energy investment in America?’ Because thatâ€™s what weâ€™ve become. Well, we do have these rich resources, but we also have the government – not, by the way, who deserves as much credit as it sometimes takes for whatâ€™s going on. What we deserve credit for is not screwing it up. Because you know what the greatest system in the world for economic growth is? The free market.
And Crabtree ended his comments with a discussion of why the commission is so important right now – he said it’s a group of people that will make decisions now that will last for generations or even forever.
Thereâ€™s an awful lot at stake right now, so Iâ€™m glad youâ€™re here. The decisions that are made in the next five to 10 years will certainly last for generations, and some of them could be permanent. And I think how those decisions that get made will determine whether the energy boom weâ€™re experiencingâ€¦ Not all of itâ€™s a boom. Some of itâ€™s just good, steady development, like on the wind energy side. But whether that ends up being sort of the greatest blessing North Dakotaâ€™s ever had or something we look back on and say, â€˜Wow, we should have done that differentlyâ€¦
Thatâ€™s what Art Link in his famous speech said. When the landscape is quiet again, when all is said and doneâ€¦ This was about coal mining. When the draglines stop ripping and roaring, he had other beautiful, much more eloquent than I can quote it back to you.
But he said that our grandkids come back and they look and they say, â€˜You know, our grandparents did well by the land.â€™ Thatâ€™s the choice that we have right now because 20 years from now, the die will be cast. And the PSCâ€™s really important in that regard.