HURON — South Dakota’s candidates for governor clashed over environmental issues Saturday, with Democrat Scott Heidepriem saying the governor hasn’t done enough to promote renewable energy and Republican Dennis Daugaard claiming huge growth in the industry.
During a debate at the State Fair, Heidepriem said Republican Gov. Mike Rounds has failed to adequately promote ethanol production and wind energy. “We can’t be afraid of green energy jobs in South Dakota,” the state senator said.
Daugaard, the state’s lieutenant governor, said Rounds’ administration has used commonsense policies such as building wind farms in areas where they have access to transmission lines to help both industries grow dramatically in the past eight years.
“It’s happening in South Dakota where it makes economic sense,” Daugaard said.
Both candidates, clad in boots and blue jeans, answered questions submitted by audience members for about 90 minutes on an outdoor stage. The debate, which focused on rural issues and attracted several hundred people, was sponsored by the South Dakota Farmers Union.
Daugaard said he understands agriculture because he grew up on a small farm in eastern South Dakota. Heidepriem noted that he grew up in Miller, a small town that depends on agriculture, and has worked with farmers all his life.
The Republican caused a stir during the debate when he said he wasn’t sure whether humans were causing global warming.
“I am skeptical about the science that suggests global warming is man-caused or can be corrected by man-made efforts,” Daugaard said, drawing gasps and murmurs from some in the crowd. “It’s a complex world we live in.”
Heidepriem said he believed scientific evidence shows that global warming is occurring and is a real threat.
“We can stick our heads in the sand and pretend like the world isn’t out there, but it is,” Heidepriem said. “I think the evidence is significant. We ignore that evidence at our own peril.”
The candidates also discussed state budget issues and education, but much of the debate focused on renewable energy.
Heidepriem criticized Rounds and Daugaard for failing to use enough ethanol in state government vehicles or to put enough blender pumps that can supply variable mixes of ethanol and gasoline at state Transportation Department facilities.
Daugaard said he supports installing more blender pumps, but said they should go to stations open to the public instead of those only available to state vehicles. The state also has a policy of buying flex-fuel vehicles that can use varying blends of ethanol, he said.
Heidepriem also said South Dakota has fallen behind Iowa and Minnesota in construction of wind farms. The Democrat noted that the Legislature this year had to override a veto issued by Rounds so a law could take effect to continue construction tax refunds for large wind farms.
Daugaard said he wouldn’t have vetoed the bill, but said other states have problems with increased utility rates because they mandated the use of wind energy. South Dakota has built wind farms only where transmission lines are available, he said.
Heidepriem said the nation needs to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, and South Dakota needs to be ready to take advantage of the growth in wind farms and ethanol production.
Daugaard agreed that the U.S. must cut its use of foreign oil “because it’s a national security problem. It’s a threat to our nation.”
Heidepriem criticized his opponent and the current governor for not doing enough to protect the state from possible oil spills from pipelines, such as the TransCanada line in eastern South Dakota and the planned TransCanada Keystone line in the western part of the state.
The Democrat noted that he proposed a 2-cent-a-barrel fee on oil shipped through the lines to support a fund that could be used to clean up spills. The bill died because Rounds opposed it, he said.
“We need to protect ourselves and defend ourselves,” Heidepriem said.
Daugaard said protective steps have already been taken. The state Public Utilities Commission has imposed safety conditions on the TransCanada pipelines, and the Legislature passed a law requiring the company to clean up any spill immediately, even if a leak is caused by someone other than TransCanada, he said.
“I believe the environment is being protected,” the lieutenant governor said.