Senator Heitkamp Played Politics and Ended up Giving Obama a Big Win for His Environmental Legacy

Sen. Heidi Hietkamp, D-N.D. David Samson / The Forum

How has Senator Heidi Heitkamp managed to be the only Democrat elected on North Dakota’s statewide ballot since 2008? She invests a lot of time and energy posturing herself as a moderate who frequently dissents against the liberal orthodoxy of her fellow Democrats. A the policy area where she most often does this is energy, which isn’t surprising given how important oil, gas, and coal development are to North Dakota’s economy.

But Heitkamp cast a vote earlier this year that was very, very bad for the oil and gas industry. Congress was working on repealing an Obama-era BLM rule related to flaring that was duplicative of North Dakota’s already tough emissions rules.

She tried to be on both sides of the issue, pandering to her left-wing base with her vote even as she spun it to her right-leaning, pro-energy constituents and it just blew up in her face.

Not that you should take my word for it. Heitkamp herself has admitted that the rule “overreached.” Further, in a letter Heitkamp argued “the BLM erred in its development of the rule and failed to adequately consider credible concerns raised by industry stakeholders and tribes with active oil and gas productions on federal and Indian lands.”

Governor Doug Burgum is opposed to the rule as well, and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has filed suit on behalf of the state challenging its legality.

Yet, despite all that, Heitkamp was the deciding vote to keep the rule in place. The vote tally was 51-49. Had Heitkamp voted the other way, the tie would have been settled in favor of repealing the rule by Vice President Mike Pence.

The New York Times called the failed vote a “win for environmentalists” and a “surprising victory for President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy.”

Now, Heitkamp’s big defense of her vote was to argue that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke should delay the rule and change it to something more palatable to the industry. Except last week a federal judge overturned Zinke’s efforts to delay the rule.

Heitkamp could have allowed us to avoid all of this by simply voting to overturn the rule. Instead, she played politics. She tried to be on both sides of the issue, pandering to her left-wing base with her vote even as she spun it to her right-leaning, pro-energy constituents and it just blew up in her face.

Sadly, the the more dire implications aren’t political. This is bad public policy, but thanks to Heitkamp’s ham-handed maneuvering our industries and economy must suffer.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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