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PSC: A front-row seat for issues

By Julie Fedorchak

A recent column in your paper from columnist and blogger Rob Port raised a couple of concerns regarding my comments on regulatory and public policy issues. I appreciate the opportunity to respond.

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.

Regarding the proposed Davis Refinery, I understand companies do not seek ways to subject themselves to more regulation. I also realize the company sees 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 55,000-barrel facility.

Port suggests 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 facility. 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.

I believe completing the siting process would save this company trouble. We have permitted more than $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.

Julie Fedorchak serves on the North Dakota Public Service Commission.

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