In his visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota today, President Barack Obama is in for a unique opportunity, making him just the fourth U.S. president to visit Indian Country and the home of Chief Sitting Bull.
His meetings at the reservation are important and long overdue, and hopefully will further a dialogue on solutions to important tribal matters here and elsewhere across the United States. For all of this he should be commended and North Dakotans should welcome him accordingly.
Yet, with so much talk and debate in Washington about the nation’s energy future, many of us are left scratching our heads, though, as to why President Obama would bypass another unique opportunity North Dakota could offer: a firsthand look at the state’s booming energy industry and the positive economic impact a true “all of the above” strategy affords workers, families and communities.
From traditional sources of energy such as coal, natural gas, and oil, as well as renewables, North Dakota’s bipartisan energy policies have been pivotal in creating countless new jobs, attracting new small businesses and increasing overall quality of life across the state.
Is the president skipping what some call the North Dakota economic miracle because the solutions aren’t coming out of Washington? Or is it because the president’s Environmental Protection Agency just issued a costly new set of rules for all U.S. electricity providers that could adversely impact North Dakota’s energy costs and continued economic prosperity?
We’d argue that the president should view North Dakota’s economy and energy landscape as a model for other states to emulate, with an incredibly low unemployment rate of 2.6 percent; high-paying jobs; low-cost, affordable energy (some of the least expensive in the nation); and clean air. Indeed, North Dakota’s energy abundance and diversity is one reason Gallup named it the happiest state in the nation.
Small businesses play an important role in the state’s energy landscape — from manufacturing parts and supplies for the energy sector to building homes and providing needed services for workers attracted by new created high-wage jobs.
North Dakota’s affordable, ample energy supply also frees these businesses from the burden of high energy costs, enabling them to grow and employ even more people. In turn, small businesses can pass their savings down to consumers, helping families live better, more affordable lives and bolstering the local economies of the communities they call home.
North Dakota has the second-largest reserve of lignite coal in the world — enough to last 800 years. The Bakken shale oil formation is one of the largest in the nation and has been a major driver in reducing America’s consumption of foreign sources of energy. In its most recent estimates, the U.S. Geological Survey found the Bakken formation contains more than
7.4 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil.
Those estimates could increase as energy companies continue to perfect smarter, more efficient, cleaner extraction methods. According to 2013 data compiled by the Energy Information Agency, North Dakota also has a robust renewable energy portfolio including 16 percent of its electricity derived from wind and
5 percent from hydroelectric power.
North Dakotans enjoy some of the cleanest air in the nation. The coal industry has invested some $2 billion in clean coal technologies to reduce emissions, and the oil and gas industry continues to upgrade its environmental controls, contributing to an overall reduction in emissions.
In fact, the American Lung Association recently recognized the Peace Garden State for its exceptionally clean air quality.
The North Dakota energy boom continues to produce new high-paying jobs to our region. The lignite industry alone directly employs 4,000 workers with another 13,000 indirectly, many in small businesses, and has led the state in average wages for much of the past 20 years. And the oil and gas industries are hiring on a daily basis to the extent that one of the main obstacles for workers is finding sufficient housing. After the great recession, most states would welcome such a dilemma.
They say a rising tide lifts all boats; in the case of North Dakota that tide is an available and affordable mix of homegrown energy resources. We welcome President Obama to North Dakota.
We only hope he will take a little extra time to learn about how bipartisan energy solutions can and should be implemented, and consider how policies coming out of Washington will either help or hinder the type of success North Dakota families and communities have experienced.
(Dan Danner is president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business and Jason Bohrer is president and CEO of the Lignite Energy Council.)