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Published September 22 2010

Forum editorial: Dial down the politics of energy

As residents of the North begin to prepare for the winter, the debate over energy has become skewed by the hyper-partisanship of a political year. The situation is especially important to North Dakota, where the convergence of old and new energy technologies is transforming the landscape.

The politics is crucial. Despite the heat (little light) that is generated during a campaign season, energy questions turn more on regionalism than on partisanship. For example, in North Dakota, the hotly contested race for the U.S. House of Representatives finds incumbent Democrat Earl Pomeroy and Republican challenger Rick Berg on the same page regarding cap-and- trade legislation and the overreach of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. While neither man cares to concede that they agree about anything, their positions on North Dakota energy development are similar. (Of course, Pomeroy does not share Berg’s enthusiasm for exploiting oil and gas on federal lands near national parks to shore up Social Security.)

Across the Red River in Minnesota’s 7th District, Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson also wants Congress to rein in the EPA when it comes to specific energy and agriculture regulation. He shares that sentiment with dozens of his Republican colleagues in Congress.

North Dakota’s changing energy picture is fraught with opportunities and risks. It’s too important to be left to the petty sniping and misinformation of the 2010 political campaigns. Striking a balance between development and regulation will be the challenge of the future. Responsibly extracting oil, gas or coal without harming land, water and air cannot be left exclusively to drillers and miners. North Dakota’s regulatory regime is among the best, if not the best, in the nation, but the speed of oil development, for example, threatens to leave regulators playing catch-up.

The new overlay of alternative energy sources – ethanol, wind, biomass – further complicates regulation, as we’ve seen in the past year regarding setbacks for wind towers. The intensity of the new boom in the oil patch likely will generate calls for more regulation as trade-offs between rising oil revenues and social and environmental damages become clearer.

And the politics of energy? Unrepentant partisans will defend anything their candidate says, no matter how ridiculous, factually wrong or just plain stupid. Thoughtful people, on the other hand, know North Dakota’s role in helping secure the nation’s energy future transcends petty political squabbles. All they are looking for is a candidate or incumbent who knows as much.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.