Yesterday a CNBC article quoting North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Robert Harms calling for as slowdown in oil development raised a lot of eyebrows.
I got Harms on the phone yesterday evening and recorded an interview with him talking about the issue. You can listen to the whole thing above, but here are some of the tid-bits:
Harms says CNBC was wrong to quote him as the NDGOP chairman. “I was talking on my own behalf,” Harms told me. “I was not speaking on behalf of the North Dakota Republican Party.” He said that in general the article reported his comments and sentiments accurately, but that he thought the called him as a private North Dakota citizen not as a political party official.
Why does Harms feel oil development should be slowed down, and how does he suggest we do it? He told me that support for as lowdown is “a very strong sentiment in western North Dakota,” where he says every type of infrastructure has been overrun. As to what should be done, “We ought to at least evaluate where wells are located and how we issue permits in concert with infrastructure,” he told me. He also cited some specific examples of policy changes he would make if he were in charge (I should have asked if he felt it was appropriate for a party officials to be making public policy proposals like this):
- Require oil companies to submit a road maintenance program along with drilling permit applications.
- Better reviews for rail safety.
- Requirements for safer rail cars to transport oil in.
- Build out pipeline infrastructure.
- Review how oil development on state lands is managed.
- Require oil companies to submit a plan for handling gas flaring.
Harms was careful to say that “we shouldn’t overreact.” “All I’m saying is that as we are looking at 20 – 30 years of oil development, there is nothing wrong with taking some pause to consider impacts on infrastructure.”
Does being a lobbyist create a conflict of interest with his position as Chariman of the NDGOP? Harms answers to this line of questioning surprised me. “Absolutely,” he told me to the conflict of interest question. He told me “nobody else volunteered for the job” as chairman, and so he stepped up to serve, but he said he’s careful “never to take my lobbyist hat into meetings” with the state’s Republican elected officials. “I always try to keep my professional activities separate from what I’m doing for the party,” he told me.
The full audio is definitely worth a listen.