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.