Fiegen Missing PUC Hearing on Keystone XL, Still Able to Vote on Permit Renewal

Public Utilities Commissioner Kristie Fiegen has lots of bedside reading ahead.
Public Utilities Commissioner Kristie Fiegen has lots of reading ahead.

The Public Utilities Commission has begun its seven-day evidentiary hearing on renewing TransCanada’s permit to build the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline across western South Dakota. You can listen live online here.

You will not hear Commissioner Kristie Fiegen asking any questions. She’ll miss the hearing as she undergoes treatment for recently diagnosed cancer. The PUC hearing can proceed, as long as Commissioners Chris Nelson and Gary Hanson are in the room forming a two-man quorum. Commissioner Fiegen won’t be on hand to break any tie votes on procedural matters during the hearing (any chance that Nelson and Hanson would disagree on a procedural matter?), but she can still vote on the permit later, as long as she does her homework:

PUC Chairman Chris Nelson says Fiegen’s treatment during the time of the hearing won’t allow her to attend either in person or by phone. However, he says state law allows a board or commission member to participate in a hearing after the fact by reading a complete transcript or listening to a complete recording.

“And it’s my understanding that Commissioner Fiegen’s intention is to do one or both of those items,” Nelson says. “Following that, she will be filing an affidavit with the commission stating that she has either listened to or read the entirety of the proceeding prior to taking any action on the question that we are to resolve” [Victoria Wicks, “KXL Hearing Testimony to be Considered After the Fact by Commissioner Fiegen,” SDPB Radio, 2015.07.24].

Naturally, we hope Commissioner Fiegen’s treatment gets her back on her feet quickly, not just for her sake and her family’s, but so she can tackle seven days of hearing audio and documents at full strength.

Tangentially Related: The PUC will not hear matters of climate science or other purportedly far-off environmental and health effects not discussed in the original 2010 permit. However, research funded by two Alberta First Nations found that their people may be getting cancer from the tar sands oil that Keystone XL would carry. This study contradicts an Alberta Health Service study that found no such tar sands–cancer link.

7 Responses to Fiegen Missing PUC Hearing on Keystone XL, Still Able to Vote on Permit Renewal

  1. Update! Bold Nebraska is arguing at the hearing that state law requires that, in the absence of Commission Fiegen, the PUC must either delay the hearing until Fiegen recovers or until the Governor appoints a replacement for her for this hearing.

  2. Don Coyote

    Sad to hear Kristie has cancer. I have no doubt she’ll do her homework. Spent many a year working with her when she was associated with the MS Society in Sioux Falls and found her a diligent and capable administrator. My thoughts will be with her and her family.

  3. Deb Geelsdottir

    I too hope Fiegen recovers fully.

    If Bold Nebraska is right, that will be a good thing for the health and well-being of South Dakotans and everyone along the line.

  4. Bold Nebraska’s argument did not prevail. Commissioner Nelson responded rather forcefully and properly to shut down speculation about Commissioner Fiegen’s health.

    The law also appears to be on the side of the PUC’s decision to proceed. The relevant passage of SDCL 49-1-9 reads thus:

    A majority of the commissioners shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business, but no commissioner shall participate in any hearing or proceeding in which he has any conflict of interest or if he is temporarily incapacitated. If a commissioner determines that he is incapacitated or disqualified from participating for any reason in any hearing or proceeding, he shall certify that determination to the Governor, or if the character of the incapacity of any commissioner is such that he is unable to certify his incapacity to the Governor, the commission may make such certification. In the event of any such certification, the Governor shall then appoint an elected constitutional officer, other than the attorney general, to act as a member of the commission in place of the disqualified or incapacitated commissioner for the purpose of such hearing or proceeding only.

    Commissioner Fiegen has declared her fitness to review the hearing materials in full. Commissioners Nelson and Hanson do not appear to believe that Commissioner Fiegen is in such bad shape that she cannot certify her capacity to carry out her duties. It’s not optimal to argue a case with one commissioner out of the room, but this statute does not appear to prohibit it.

  5. Paul Seamans

    One of the concerns by the opponent lawyers is that the medication will affect Kristie and she might not be totally aware of the effects that the medication is having on herself. Wishing the best for Kristie.
    There was one ruling when Hansen supported a TransCanada objection and Nelson didn’t so it was a wash. Chief PUC counsel, John Smith, is basically running the proceedings. John Smith is a good man.

  6. Jason Sebern

    “The PUC will not hear matters of climate science or other purportedly far-off environmental and health effects not discussed in the original 2010 permit.”

    Why not? New evidence has emerged over the last five years. Is there a law that prohibits the PUC from acknowledging the facts?

  7. Hansen and Nelson are both good men, Paul. In the position they are in, they need to understand we have their back on the tough decisions they make.

    It is our legislature who lacks backbone as in not sending Sen Mahers bill to put a fund together to pay for a spill to Gov Rounds desk and their willingness to hand off authority to the Feds on the insitu mining in the hills. Spineless.