Early Trump backer in House emerging as energy policy adviser

By George Cahlink | 05/13/2016 07:57 AM EDT

On a North Dakota radio call-in show in early April, featuring both the state’s lone congressman, Kevin Cramer (R), and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, a caller asked what the billionaire’s top priority would be in his first 100 days if elected.

Cramer said the first task should be going after excessive federal regulations and "rolling them back." Not missing a beat, Trump jumped in saying, "Absolutely right, especially environmental things."

Cramer, 55, a second-term lawmaker who served for nearly a decade as a North Dakota electricity regulator, said he was already planning to endorse Trump before the radio interview. But the exchange helped solidify that they were on the same page when it came to energy and environmental policies, and Cramer soon became one of Trump’s early House backers.


Now Cramer has emerged as the top energy adviser on Capitol Hill to the campaign and regularly is in touch with Trump’s policy director. He’s drawing up at least two white papers outlining an energy strategy, and more could come.

It’s a unique and influential role for a relatively junior lawmaker, especially for a campaign with no strong ties to the energy industry and only the broadest of positions on climate change, fossil fuels and U.S. EPA regulations.

But Cramer is well-versed in energy and environmental policy. Prior to his election to the House, where he serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Cramer spent more than nine years on the North Dakota Public Service Commission. He was first appointed to the PSC by then-Gov. John Hoeven (R), and then won election to the post in his own right.

"He’s got a strong background," said Hoeven, who is now North Dakota’s senior senator, in an interview yesterday. "He’s smart, very knowledgeable."

Cramer expects Trump to roll out some details of his energy strategy later this month when he appears at a petroleum industry conference in Bismarck, N.D.

"What I am offering [Trump] is what I consider an ‘all of the above’ energy ideas that fit with his ‘America first’ theme," Cramer told E&E Daily in an interview yesterday. "Now that we can export oil and natural gas as we build up facilities, how is the global marketplace presenting opportunity or challenges?"

For example, he said, much of the refining capacity for U.S. energy products is owned by overseas companies, but too often, those companies don’t operate under the same free-market rules as the United States. He said Trump’s policies would look for ways to level the playing field.

"If they said, ‘You get to say one thing to Trump on energy and environment policy,’ it would be ‘Trust the states and government, and return authority back to states,’" Cramer said.

Specifically, Cramer cited the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan among the regulations he would recommend be scrapped or, at least, be turned over to states that could tailor their own plans.

Cramer also said he would seek to reverse federal policies that pick winners and losers among energy sources, often favoring renewables over fossil fuels.

"We can accomplish reduced greenhouse gas emissions without throwing fossil fuels under the bus," he added.

Some of Trump’s most bombastic statements have centered on climate change. The real estate developer has called global warming a hoax created by China to gain a competitive advantage over the United States.

Cramer — who calls himself a climate skeptic — said he believes Trump may ultimately support some action toward addressing climate change because it has strong populist sentiment.

Cramer does not rule out recommending a carbon tax — an idea popular on the left that the lawmaker has supported — but he said his plan would not punish companies. He said the tax revenue would instead go to the private sector to develop clean fossil fuels like coal.

The idea might have merit with Trump, who has said he’s interested in promoting clean coal and has vowed that "the coal industry is going to come back big league" if he wins in November.

Cramer laughs off statements Trump has made denying a link between aerosols in his hair spray and ozone depletion. "That’s part of his appeal, he makes fun of himself," he said.

Cramer said he has come to realize Trump is a negotiator who often stakes out extreme policy positions in areas like global warming as a bargaining tactic. "You start from an extreme position … so when you meet somewhere, you are closer to your position than the other guy’s," he added.

Cramer, a North Dakota native, said he still "cringes" at times at Trump’s occasionally intemperate pronouncements. But, he added, Trump is an "equal opportunity insulter [who] does not discriminate," and voters see him as a welcome alternative to cautious politicians.

Asked whether he could see himself working in a Trump administration, Cramer said he’s focused on re-election. On becoming Energy secretary under a President Trump, he said with a smile, "Something like that would be fine."

Trump has had little to say about who will be in his Cabinet, other than that he has a preference for business leaders from outside Washington, D.C.

Still, the presumptive nominee told radio listeners in North Dakota he’s a "fan" of Cramer and expects that "Kevin will watch over me very closely, believe me."

Reporter Geof Koss contributed.