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Members of a panel speaking on the topic of The Big Picture in State and National Energy Policy on Monday morning were from left moderator Jason Bohrer of the Lignite Energy Council, Lt. Governor Brent Sanford, Rep. Kevin Cramer, Sen. John Hoeven and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

Energy conference turns into Heitkamp, Cramer debate

BISMARCK—The first debate between Heidi Heitkamp and Kevin Cramer was canceled last week, but attendees at an energy conference on Monday, Oct. 8, got the next best thing.

Sen. Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Rep. Cramer, R-N.D., shared a stage during a roundtable discussion at the Great Plains & EmPower ND Energy Conference in Bismarck, both touting their accomplishments to advance North Dakota energy.

While it was not a campaign event, the political rivals seeking election to the U.S. Senate showed their differences and took occasional swipes at one another.

Cramer highlighted the recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court — an appointment Heitkamp opposed but Cramer said he would have supported.

Cramer said Kavanaugh's confirmation was a major accomplishment for environmental law.

"There is no jurist in recent history, probably not in the whole country, that has written more opinions on environmental law than Judge Kavanaugh," said Cramer, adding that Kavanaugh has supported the role of states in regulating the environment.

Heitkamp, who did not mention Kavanaugh during her remarks, emphasized her work in building bipartisan support for lifting the oil export ban and enhancing the 45Q tax credit that aims to advance clean coal technology.

She said it's important to build coalitions and legislate across the aisle, rather than "simply picking a team."

Both agreed that the rollback of regulations, such as the Waters of the U.S. rule under President Donald Trump, have been good for North Dakota, with Heitkamp calling the Clean Power Plan "crazy town."

Cramer called attention to the Bureau of Land Management's rule related to methane emissions on federal and tribal lands, a rule he opposed. Heitkamp voted against repealing the rule last year, saying she was influenced by the position of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. A vote to repeal the rule using the Congressional Review Act failed 51-49.

"It came up one vote short. Now it's been mucked up in litigation," Cramer said.

Both discussed the cycle of environmental rules being challenged in the courts. Heitkamp said the solution is developing energy policy in a bipartisan way so regulations don't change every time there's a new administration.

"Regulatory certainty doesn't come without bipartisan agreement," Heitkamp said.

Both Cramer and Heitkamp voiced support for advancing North Dakota's coal industry through carbon capture utilization and storage technology, with Cramer saying the war on coal is over under President Trump.

"I would say the most significant accomplishment for the energy industry and good environmental law in the the last several years, frankly, has been the election of President Trump," Cramer said.

Heitkamp said she'd like to see states change their renewable fuel standards to clean power standards, shifting the focus from renewable to clean. She advocated that coal-fired power should qualify when carbon emissions are captured.

"We can make America powered by coal again," Heitkamp said. "Let's make our case with new tools, which are new technology tools."

Cramer minimized the significance of the 45Q tax credit, legislation Heitkamp is proud of, saying it has benefited one company in one state. Cramer said he and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., are working to fix the tax credit to make it more effective for enhanced oil recovery. Cramer also said he's working to extend the refined coal tax credit.

The panel also included Hoeven, who sat between the political opponents, Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford and moderator Jason Bohrer, CEO of the Lignite Energy Council. Deputy U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette also spoke Monday, praising North Dakota for its all-of-the-above energy policy.

In the midst of a tough campaign, Heitkamp and Cramer stayed on opposite sides of the room before taking the stage on Monday morning. Following the event, Heitkamp took questions from reporters but didn't attend a news conference with the delegation.

The two had been scheduled to debate Friday, but the event was canceled due to votes in the Senate related to Kavanaugh.

Heitkamp and Cramer will participate in their first debate of the campaign on Oct. 18 in Bismarck in an event sponsored by the North Dakota Newspaper Association.

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