Berg clarifies oil-drilling remarksU.S. House challenger says he doesn’t support drilling in Teddy Roosevelt National Park for Social Security
Republican U.S. House candidate Rick Berg sat down with the Herald editorial board this afternoon to discuss the future of the Grand Forks Air Force Base, why he believes federal health care reform legislation should be repealed and why he’s running against nine-term incumbent Earl Pomeroy.
By: Ryan Johnson, Grand Forks Herald
Drilling oil underneath federal land could provide a long-term funding solution for Social Security, Republican U.S. House candidate Rick Berg said, but he doesn’t support drilling on Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota.
In a Friday meeting with the Herald’s editorial board, Berg clarified comments he made earlier in the week.
Berg said it’s a big concern right now because he believes Social Security’s funding crisis is “more serious than it’s being played out” with the country’s true unemployment rate probably hovering at about 15 percent.
That means there are not enough payroll taxes coming into the system, he said. Drilling for oil and other minerals on federal land could help that shortage, Berg said, because the federal government is the largest mineral owner in the country.
“One thought was, well maybe if the federal government would increase its permitting and take that asset that they’ve got as minerals now, shift that asset to shore up Social Security, it would make sense to do that,” he said.
Berg serves on the board of directors of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation and said he wasn’t implying in his earlier comments that there should be drilling on the national park.
“But with the technology we’ve got with horizontal drilling, there’s a potential to go under some of those federal lands,” he said.
Don Larson, a spokesman for Republican U.S. Senate candidate and North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, said Hoeven “doesn’t support drilling our national parks.” But he supports drilling underneath federally managed lands that aren’t part of the parks system, including the Dakota Prairie National Grasslands in western North Dakota.
“He supports that as well as looking for federal leases offshore where we can do drilling as long as it’s in an environmentally friendly and safe manner,” Larson said.
Incumbent Democratic-NPL Rep. Earl Pomeroy said Berg has made statements for months about drilling in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and “is now trying to run away” from those comments. Even with horizontal drilling, Pomeroy said, it’s not possible to get the oil underneath the park “without seeing any signs of the drilling activity.”
He said Berg’s comments about Social Security exaggerate current estimates that the program’s benefits can be paid until 2037 without any changes — after which payroll taxes would be enough to pay 75 percent of benefits.
“It’s pretty clear that these things have not been clearly thought through and Rick Berg needs to stop playing games with Social Security,” Pomeroy said. “It’s just way too important.”
- Berg said national health care reform legislation passed this spring should be repealed and Congress needs to “start over” on the issue.
“It’s fundamentally flawed because it’s not going to reduce costs,” he said.
Berg admitted that even if Republicans take control of the House and Senate this November, any bill to repeal the legislation would be vetoed by President Barack Obama. But he said Congress could not fund the government positions needed to administer the reform and then work to develop a better plan that lowers costs and includes more input.
“Then, you might see this health care repealed and replaced by another alternative,” he said. “If not, I think that will be a center focus in our presidential election two years from now: What’s the long-term plan on health care?”
Berg said the current legislation was passed after Democrats bought votes by including earmarks to target lawmakers, a tactic he doesn’t support. He said he doesn’t think all earmarks are wrong, adding he’s “not an absolute kind of person,” but those deals made the legislation much more expensive.
“My point is that if we want to get back to the spending side of it, there has to be some check and balance on that,” he said.
- Berg said he was “very concerned” about the long-term future of Grand Forks Air Force Base, especially after military personnel levels dip below 1,000 by the end of the year.
As part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure round, the base is shifting to a new mission hosting Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aircraft. KC-135 Stratotankers that had previously been stationed at the base but will be transferred by the end of the year.
Berg said he’s worried about the next round of realignment and wants to see Grand Forks position itself for the future.
“With our Centers of Excellence here, with our people here, we have the ability to create an infrastructure around an Air Force base that is the future of the Air Force,” he said. “From the private sector, we need to do that.”
Local leaders need to figure out what the Air Force is looking for and find “the niche that’s not being filled,” Berg said, in order for the base to become “the logical and best place to be.”
Johnson reports on local politics. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.