Senate leader moves for PUC changes after carbon pipeline dispute
Original legislation would have replaced pool of substitute commissioners appointed by governor
PIERRE – A dispute between the Senate’s top Republican and the state treasurer is the genesis for legislation that would change the way substitutes are picked to sit on the Public Utilities Commission in the event a commissioner is disqualified.
Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, the Senate president pro tempore, is sponsoring a bill to change the pool of substitutes. Currently, when one of the three PUC members is disqualified from hearing a case, the governor can pick a substitute: either the secretary of state, auditor, treasurer or commissioner of school and public lands.
The PUC is a quasi-judicial body that decides whether to grant utility rate increases, and it has the authority to issue permits for energy producers, including electric transmission facilities, wind farms and some energy pipelines, among other duties.
In the event a commissioner has a conflict of interest in a particular case and recuses him or herself, the governor can name a substitute. While rare, it has happened in some higher-profile cases. Most recently, that included the permit application by Summit Carbon Solutions, which wants to bury a carbon sequestration pipeline through 18 counties to help ethanol companies offset their carbon emissions.