Former US Senator: Renewables Are Not Oil, Gas Enemy

It’s been almost 10 years since Congress passed meaningful energy policy, said retired North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, but politics deserve the blame for inaction – not climate change or renewable fuels.

In a recent podcast with the Columbia Energy Exchange, Dorgan said that when he first arrived at Capitol Hill in 1980, his home state didn’t produce much energy. Until then, his experience in the sector had been as a teenager, pumping gas at his father’s station, which charged customers $1.75 for five gallons of fuel.

The differences between now and then, he said, are dramatic.

With the Bakken shale play among the most successful basins of the shale revolution, North Dakota was transformed. Even after the collapse in commodity prices, the state’s unemployment rate is less than 4 percent – one of the lowest in the nation.

But U.S. energy policy hasn’t kept up. Another change – also transformative, but without the abundance – is Congress’ ability to get things done.

“Congress is pretty much dysfunctional,” he said. “It just can’t do what it needs to do to cross the political aisle … because crossing the political aisle these days puts a huge penalty on those who decide to do it.”

Deep division exists not only between members of Congress, but also between fossil fuel advocates and those who support renewable fuels.

“I wish the oil industry would not decide that their No. 1 issue is to go to war against renewables,” he said. “I think the shale oil revolution is transformational and good news for our country, but so too is the substantial progress we’ve made in solar, wind and in other areas.” 

Clean power is important to creating a future with less carbon emissions, and Dorgan said he supports a carbon tax, or “fee” – a controversial proposition. But he also supports fossil fuels. Despite the contempt many in the oil and gas industry hold for regulations, he said they are essential.

“I also believe the free market is the most wonderful thing for the allocation of goods and services, but you also need regulation,” he said. “You need a referee.” 

Whether the next president is Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican candidate Donald Trump – Dorgan said he’s hoping for a Clinton presidency – it will be troublesome to get an energy bill through Congress, he said.

During the Obama Administration, energy policy has developed more in the marketplace than in the hallowed rooms on Capitol Hill. And Dorgan said that will leave Obama’s successor in much the same position he occupied on energy policy: using executive authority, which isn’t a popular option.

“In the absence of Congress tearing into the meat of what good energy policy should be moving forward, how do you incentivize certain areas and how do you move to other certain areas until then … I think a future president will tend to put more finger prints on that policy.”

An award-winning journalist, Deon has reported on energy, business and politics for almost 20 years. Email Deon at


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Jerry Lummus | Oct. 26, 2016
Ultimately, our separation of powers governmental structure protects rights of the minority. Indeed, doing so has been difficult throughout our history. As has been said, many times, it is the worse form of government -- except for all the others. At the end of the day, the majority should be able to overrule the minority, either in the congress or through presidential executive orders, only if they will consent to similar procedures when they are in the minority.


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