Congressman Cramer and Senator Heitkamp Are Telling Completely Different Stories About Tribe’s Position on Methane Rule


Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s deciding vote killing a “midnight” Obama regulation pertaining to methane emissions has been pretty controversial, but in defending it the Senator claimed she was just following the wishes of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of the Fort Berthold Reservation.

“Support for the rule from the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation was a significant factor in her decision,” Amy Dalrymple reported in an article headlined, “Heitkamp influenced by tribe’s position as Senate fails to repeal federal methane rule.”

“I thought it was critically important that we listen to the people of the tribe and the tribal government,” Heitkamp herself is quoted as saying.

That surprised me, because in interviews I’d done previously with Congressman Kevin Cramer (who voted to repeal the rule in the House), he mentioned to me that tribal representatives were lobbying to end the rule.

This morning I checked up on that claim with Cramer, and he stood by it, adding he was told by the tribal representatives that Heitkamp also was for repealing the rule. “An entire delegation from MHA sat in my office and told me they oppose the rule and that Heidi Heitkamp pledged her support for the CRA,” he told me.

He even provided me with a picture of the delegation visiting with him in his office in February of this year:

The CRA stands for Congressional Review Act. That allows Congress to repeal regulations passed by the executive branch within a certain time window. Once repealed, the agency in question can’t impose new rules that are substantially similar without approval from Congress.

Anyway, what gives? Heitkamp is saying she voted to keep the rule because that’s what the MHA Nation wanted (their reservation is home to a big chunk of North Dakota’s oil and gas activity), but Cramer is saying the tribe was lobbying against the vote.

I had MHA Chairman Mark Fox on my radio show this afternoon to try and clear things up, and he told me the tribe has always had “conditional” support for the rule. The conditions being that the rule has “greater deference to tribal law” and that the federal government stops “treating tribal trust lands like federal public lands.”

Positions I entirely agree with, by the way. Tribal land is tribal land, and it should be up to the tribe decide how the use of that land is governed.

I read Cramer’s comment to me this morning about the MHA delegation which visited him, and Fox disputed it. “I can assure you Mark Fox wasn’t in this group he was alluding to,” he told me, adding that maybe Cramer was “mischaracterizing” what was said.

Here’s audio of that interview:

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What’s interesting is that I also had North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness on my program. I was talking with him about the general impacts of the rule Senator Heitkamp voted to keep (he says she’s “exactly wrong” when she claimed the regulation won’t cost any oil patch jobs), and he mentioned on his own that the tribe had supported repealing the bill.

When I brought up Chairman Fox’s comments saying they supported keeping the rule, Ness was surprised. “There was a group of the council members who met with the Senators and they supported it,” Ness told me, referring to the CRA which would have repealed the bill. “Everybody knows that,” he added.

Here’s audio of the Ness interview:

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We have two groups of people making claims that are completely divergent. They cannot be reconciled.

Someone isn’t telling the truth.

Is Cramer lying about what was said during his meeting with representatives from the MHA? Has Ness been mislead about the tribe’s position?

Or did the tribe change their position on the rule at some point, perhaps to give Senator Heitkamp political cover for a very controversial vote, and now they’re covering for her?

I reached out to Senator Heitkamp’s staff for comment but, as usual, they didn’t respond.