The inauguration of Joe Biden as president has many who care about energy in North Dakota wondering what his administration will tackle first as it seeks to bring about a cleaner environment.
Top of mind for some is the Dakota Access Pipeline, which carries as much as half of North Dakota’s daily oil output to market. Energy observers also are keeping close tabs on Biden’s Cabinet picks, as departments such as Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency could put forward regulations aimed at curbing climate change by targeting two powerful industries in North Dakota: oil and coal.
Biden has never spoken publicly about Dakota Access, but Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has. She and other Democratic lawmakers signed onto a legal brief last spring urging a federal judge to revoke a key permit for the pipeline while a lengthy environmental study is underway.
“As of today, the pipeline is operating illegally and the Army Corps is refusing to enforce the law by shutting it down,” Hasselman said, adding that he expects federal officials in the Biden administration to discuss the possibility of intervening. “They will certainly be hearing from us and others.”
“We did complete some initial ground work at the new pump stations located in North and South Dakota prior to the ground freezing,” Energy Transfer spokeswoman Lisa Coleman said in a statement. “While some types of work will resume once the ground thaws, other work at the site currently remains underway on above-ground piping, valves, electrical installation, and erecting the pump building.”
North Dakota’s top oil regulator characterized anxiety surrounding the pipeline’s future under the Biden administration as “pretty high.”
He described the president-elect’s choice for Interior secretary — Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M. — as an activist who has supported the Green New Deal, a package of proposals within Congress aimed at tackling climate change.
She would oversee the Interior Department, which has authority over trust lands on American Indian reservations such as Fort Berthold. Biden campaigned on a promise to end fracking on federal lands, which could be facilitated through a ban on oil permitting or leasing in those areas. It’s unclear whether such a ban, if proposed, would apply to trust lands. Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Mark Fox told the Tribune last fall he would demand that the tribe and not the federal government make decisions about energy development on those lands.
Others in North Dakota are excited about Haaland and look forward to the new administration.
Lisa DeVille, a co-founder of Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights, called Haaland’s nomination “historic,” adding that it feels like Native Americans finally “got a voice at the table.” Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and would be the first Native American Interior secretary and the first to serve in a president’s Cabinet.
DeVille hopes Haaland will work with grassroots organizations such as hers, which focuses on environmental issues, and not just tribal leaders as has happened in past administrations.
Some lawmakers at the state Capitol in Bismarck are concerned about Biden’s Cabinet picks, even putting forward legislation last week targeting the incoming president’s power. While it’s sure to face pushback and a debate about state and federal rights, one measure, House Bill 1164, aims to give the state and cities the ability to disregard certain presidential executive orders targeting oil, coal and pandemics, among other issues.
Within North Dakota’s lignite coal industry, one leader described Biden’s appointees as “a mixed bag.”
Jason Bohrer, president and CEO of the Lignite Energy Council, said he felt his group could find common ground with the president-elect’s choice for energy secretary, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, on priorities such as electrifying the transportation fleet, battery storage and research to reduce carbon emissions.
“I haven’t yet seen an appointee I can’t work with or that, like, scares me,” he said.
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