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Oil Minister out after tough year

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg once again chose to release some jarring news in the midst of national euphoria over skiing world championships, this time a shake-up in his cabinet. His beleaguered oil minister Terje Riis-Johansen had to announce two difficult decisions earlier this week. On Friday Riis-Johansen was replaced.

Terje Riis-Johansen was sweating hard at a press conference last summer, when the issues of delays over carbon recapture and construction of overhead power lines in Hardanger were raging. PHOTO:

Riis-Johansen’s departure had long been anticipated, with critics already calling for his resignation last year, when he first had to admit to embarrassing delays involving the government’s much-hyped carbon capture plans at Statoil’s Mongstad plant. He confirmed further delays on Monday.

Then Riis-Johansen announced controversial plans to build overhead power lines around the scenic Hardanger Fjord, another messy political dilemma he’d had to deal with since last summer. On Friday morning he confirmed that he’d be stepping down as Norway’s Oil & Energy Minister.

He’ll be replaced by a young, highly ambitious colleague from the small, farmer-friendly Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) that’s a minority member of Stoltenberg’s left-center coalition government. Ola Borten Moe, age 34, is widely viewed as the party’s “crown prince,” waiting in the wings to take over when the recently embattled party leader and cabinet minister Liv Signe Navarsete steps down. She and the rest of the party have been embroiled in embarrassing cases of funding irregularities, and some thought Borten Moe would replace her at a national party meeting earlier this year.

Now, at least, he’ll get some experience as a government minister. Borten Moe is already a member of Parliament and clearly keen on being a career politician like his grandfather before him.

Norway's new Oil and Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe PHOTO: Senterpartiet

Borten Moe from Sør-Trøndelag is the son of farmer Peder Moe and nurse Kari Borten, who in turn is the daughter of Per Borten, a former leader of the Center Party who served as prime minister in the late 1960s. Ola Borten Moe has gladly used the Borten name during his own climb up the political ladder, and now, when he’s due to formally take over as deputy leader of the party this spring, he’ll already be a government minister.

The change at the top of Norway’s important oil ministry means environmental activists and other opponents of the delays at Mongstad and the power lines in Hardanger will now have to deal with a new minister. Riis-Johansen will be spared further harsh criticism. Stoltenberg let the Center Party keep the post in his government and may hope Borten Moe can start with a fresh slate, now that two of the government’s most pressing controversial decisions have been made. The third issue is over whether to allow oil and gas drilling off Lofoten and Vesterålen, where the Center Party already has firmly expressed its opposition.

Riis-Johansen, meanwhile, predictably tried to put the best spin possible on his departure. He told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Friday morning that it was “a fine day” and he looked forward to spend more time with his family in Telemark instead of commuting weekly to Oslo. As often happens in the world of politics, he’s not being entirely pushed into the cold. Plans are already brewing for him to eventually land the sought-after position of county administrator (fylkesmann) back home in Telemark.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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