In a recent video clip from CNBC, North Dakota’s governor answers questions about energy policy in the United States. Like many other people, I’ve never heard of Gov. Doug Burgum, which isn’t terribly surprising because he’s from one of the most out of the way and low-population states. I have nothing against rural areas and rural people (I grew up in a really rough rural area in New Mexico), but it’s hard to deny that the national visibility of a political player in a low-population state isn’t going to be very high.
Despite limited name recognition, Burgum has announced a run for president in the Republican primaries. So, his ideas could become nationally important, even if all he does is attend a few debates and share his ideas in front of a big audience before being trounced by better-known candidates. Or, he could do what he did when he ran as a no-name candidate for governor in 2016, and beat the odds. He’s a billionaire, and could potentially either surprise us or be enough of a contender to get a cabinet seat in the next Republican administration.
When he sat down for the interview, he was attending the American Energy Security Summit in Oklahoma City, so naturally the topic was U.S. energy policy. But, what you’re about to hear (assuming you don’t have a blood pressure issue and need to skip the video) is a guy who basically gets everything wrong.
Like the scenes in Star Wars Episode IX, where Luke Skywalker says “Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong,” I’m going to go ahead and call this guy out. It may seem silly to do this, but keep in mind that he’s using common anti-EV and anti-cleantech tropes that people in his camp will be trying to spread like crazy over the next year. Being able to know what the common BS arguments are against the energy transition and why they’re wrong is important.
The interview starts with the governor being asked what’s wrong with the current energy policy in the United States. He starts out by saying that the Biden administration wants these things:
- Shut down the oil and gas industry
- Shut down all stable baseload power sources on the grid
- Rely on “just wind and solar” for energy needs
- No permits for “nucular” energy (yes, he really said it that way)
- Americans might find stickers on light switches saying that they might not work, depending on the weather.
- Depend on China for EVs
I can hear the eyes rolling from here as I type this. To characterize the Biden administration’s goals like this is just plain wrong. I’ve seen no call to completely shutter the oil and gas industries. Biden obviously never said that we should have no stable baseloads on the power grids. Nobody thinks that straight up solar and wind (with no energy storage) is a good solution. A report from the administration I wrote about recently even discusses the importance of advanced nuclear energy.
And the thing about stickers on light switches warning of possible reliability? That’s absurd enough on its face to dismiss as a possible plan under the Biden administration. This is something he pulled from his butt on the spot.
Finally, the idea that Biden wants to rely on China for EVs is patently false. As most readers would know, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has many “made in America” requirements for charging infrastructure subsidies. The Inflation Reduction Act’s revamped tax credits for EVs also doesn’t allow EVs relying on Chinese battery minerals, so it’s hard to argue that the administration doesn’t care about reliance on China.
The only kind way to discuss his take on Biden’s energy policies is this:
What About His Proposed Alternative Energy Policy?
Even if he didn’t lie his butt off about Biden’s policies, it’s also worth taking a look at what he thinks the United States should be doing. But, he is somewhere between deceptive and short-sighted with all of it.
Here are the things he wants the audience to believe:
- The U.S. produces fossil fuels cleaner than anybody
- The U.S. should export fossil fuels to strategic allies to counter China and Russia
- Decarbonize with carbon capture and sequestration instead of not putting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to begin with
- “Innovation and not regulation,” with an emphasis on winning a “cold war with China” through a strong economy (thinking past the sale).
When asked about protecting the climate under his energy strategy, he said “we’re doing that in North Dakota right now,” but gave no specifics on climate protection. Instead, he said that people living in North Dakota care more about the land and the water than people in other places, and that his state has among the cleanest air and water. So, in other words, he sidestepped the question entirely by talking about other forms of pollution instead of climate change.
When asking about moving production of cleantech to the United States, he doesn’t discuss that, either. Instead, he goes back to a strategy of using oil to strengthen allies (who would then burn the stuff). The interviewer even gave him the perfect softball question about prices and inflation, and he instead decided to call for burning fossil fuels.
So, it’s clear that he’s slippery, but he did make two points that weren’t avoided or sidestepped.
One was the argument that oil is essential to the geopolitical effort against China. Even if we accept his premise that there’s a cold war with China (nobody’s ducking and covering), he’s forgetting that advanced technologies are as essential as energy. You can bet your bottom dollar that Xi Jinping knows the importance of getting off of oil, because oil tankers are a huge strategic vulnerability in any future war with western powers. Letting China control cleantech is a disaster that can’t be countered with a bunch of oil-burning by allies.
The other thing he didn’t get challenged on was carbon capture. This is a topic that my colleague Steve took down thoroughly in May, and you can read all about why that approach is doomed to fail. In a nutshell, it’s a scam.
Finally, there’s just not a clean way to produce fossil fuels. The energy (including a lot of electricity) needed to produce, refine, and transport fossil fuels is badly needed to do actual work. And, once produced, the stuff gets burnt no matter how comparatively clean the process has become compared to other places.
In the end, it’s pretty clear that this guy has nothing but red herrings, dodges, and mind games in his quiver. He frequently asks us to think past the sale, and accept his premises (such as that fossil fuels leads to a strong economy) as truth while debating the next thing he wants to convince us of. But, the whole argument that we need to burn more fossil fuels to be strong and beat China is simply a house of cards.
But, now you know that, and can tell your friends and family why he’s wrong when it comes up next year. Congratulations ahead of time on being the smartest person in that room.
Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.
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