Julie Fedorchak: Feeling a Duty to Engage

Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak

Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak submitted this guest post in response to my recent open letter critical of some of her recent public comments. – Rob

Rob,

Thanks for the letter. Hardly anyone writes letters anymore! You raise a couple of concerns regarding my comments on regulatory and public policy issues.

While regulating public utilities is the core of our responsibilities, we also have a front row seat on a lot of policy issues. We are often called to offer opinions, help mitigate issues and provide insight on policy issues that are outside of our direct responsibility. Carbon dioxide regulation, federal coal leasing, how regional transmission tariffs affect coal-fired generation facilities, pipeline safety rules, natural gas infrastructure shortages, or wind generation technologies are a few examples.

As long as my involvement doesn’t impact a pending case, I feel a duty to engage on issues affecting North Dakota people and industries when I have experience and information to add to the conversation.

You suggest I’m trying to create a “rhetorical expectation” that companies submit themselves to the siting law when they don’t need to. Actually, the expectation that they would complete the siting process was triggered by the company’s own statements, applications and promises to investors to construct a 55,000 barrel-per-day.

Regarding the proposed Davis Refinery, I understand companies do not seek ways to subject themselves to more regulation. I also realize the company, and some of your readers, see a bright line in the law that does not require a permit for this project because the threshold for permitting is 50,000 barrels-per-day and the company plans to be under that, for starters. The key to me is that last piece: for starters.

For several years Meridian has been touting publicly and most importantly, to investors, plans to construct a 55,000 barrel-per-day refinery. Their application for air quality permits with the state health department also sought a 55,000 barrel facility. Clearly, the site has been selected and plans designed for a a 55,000 barrel facility.

You suggest I’m trying to create a “rhetorical expectation” that companies submit themselves to the siting law when they don’t need to. Actually, the expectation that they would complete the siting process was triggered by the company’s own statements, applications and promises to investors to construct a 55,000 barrel-per-day. Their plans, not my statements, have created the expectation for siting.

Because of these clearly, frequently, and publicly stated intentions, I believe the company and the industry as a whole, would be best served by completing the PSC permitting process prior to construction.

The location of this project has drawn interest from outdoor enthusiasts, environmentalists, history buffs, and lovers of the Badlands from far and wide. The company has communicated some impressive plans for mitigating light, noise and air pollution. On all accounts they appear to be going above and beyond to “do it right,” and create a model refinery project that can blend in anywhere.

The siting process is the appropriate place to publicly review all these plans and I believe would save this company trouble in the end. We have permitted nearly $8 billion in energy related infrastructure in the last five years, including the extremely controversial Dakota Access pipeline. None of the permits have been challenged legally, much less overturned in court.

The siting process is a proven venue for weighing the competing interests of protecting the environment and developing our state’s energy resources in a fair and open way. It ultimately strikes a balance that allows for orderly development of North Dakota’s energy resources in a way that is consistent statewide over time, and this project perhaps more than most would benefit from this process.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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