An Open Letter to Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak

North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak explains a point at a commission meeting Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. Bismarck Tribune

Dear Julie,

I think you’re a great public servant. I’m glad you’re on the Public Service Commission. It pleased me when it was reported that you might be interested in seeking a seat in Congress at some point, including possibly challenging Senator Heidi Heitkamp this cycle.

But we need to talk.

Here in North Dakota we harbor a skepticism of government regulation that is almost cultural in its pervasiveness. While we support rules, and want to see those rules enforced, we also have little patience for regulators who get too big for their britches.

Which brings me to some of your recent comments.

Earlier this week you told the folks at Prairie Public you were “concerned” about a proposed 900-mile, $1.4 billion One OK pipeline which aims to carry natural gas liquids from our region to market.

With all due respect, it’s not your job to manage the petroleum markets, any more than it’s your job to decide where farmers ship their crops.

“I appreciate the commitment, and I know it’s necessary to find an off-ramp for these products,” you said. “But once the infrastructure is in place, I fear there is a point of no return, where the product is all going to be gone, and we won’t have the opportunity to develop the industry in this state.”

With all due respect, it’s not your job to manage the petroleum markets, any more than it’s your job to decide where farmers ship their crops. It concerns me that you, as a regulator, would make these sort of comments. All the more so when we consider that, while this pipeline might accept natural gas liquids produced in our state, it will not be built within the borders of North Dakota.

It’s also concerning that you’ve spent time publicly urging Meridian Energy Group, the folks in the process of building the Davis Refinery in the western part of our state, to undergo regulatory scrutiny when they have no legal obligation to.

The first phase of the refinery would come in under the 55,000 barrels-per-day threshold for PSC siting oversight. While Meridian has acknowledge that they plan to expand in the future, and said they will come to the PSC for siting when that happens, they currently don’t have to.

You telling them they should makes it seem like they’re doing something illegal. Which they are not, under the law as it is written today.

If you feel that law should be changed, then fine. Let’s have that debate. But in the mean time, how about we don’t create a rhetorical expectation that companies submit themselves to regulatory scrutiny they aren’t legally obligated to?

The process of building something like a refinery is arduous. All the more so in these fraught and polarized political times. The last thing we need is for a state regulator to be creating new talking points for those who seek to completely obstruct the building of this sort of infrastructure.

Again, I think you’re doing a good job.

But I also think you need to spend some time reflecting on how some of your comments are perceived by the public. Your job is to ensure that North Dakota’s laws governing all manner of industries are followed. Your job is not to editorialize on the oil marketplace, or suggest voluntary submission to unrequired regulation.

Respectfully,

Rob Port, lowly blogger and talk radio loudmouth

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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