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Hanson Position on Climate Change and Fossil Fuels Supports President’s Clean Power Plan

Yesterday, Dakota Free Press commenters (who despite their occasional digressions and insults remain the most diverse, intelligent, and thought-provoking online commenters in South Dakota) got into a brief dust-up over Public Utilities Commissioner Gary Hanson’s stance on climate change.

In the spirit of that exchange, let’s note that Commissioner Hanson appears to be much more open to talking about the practical impacts of fossil-fuel use on climate change than many of his noisier Republican colleagues.

Check out what Commissioner Hanson wrote in December 2005 when he chaired a state energy task force:

Gary Hanson, chair, Public Utilities Commission, Joint Report of the South Dakota Energy Infrastructure Authority and South Dakota Energy Task Force, December 2005, p. 63.
Gary Hanson, chair, Public Utilities Commission, Joint Report of the South Dakota Energy Infrastructure Authority and South Dakota Energy Task Force, December 2005, p. 63.

Additionally, we continue to debate to what extent humankind influences the environment. However, we know climate change takes place and that we influence it through the burning of fossil fuels. We also know that fossil fuel combustion accounts for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. And we know that burning fossil fuels creates smog, toxic wastes, acid rain, and health problems. So shouldn’t we diligently and vigorously pursue the development of renewable energy? [Gary Hanson, chair, Public Utilities Commission, Joint Report of the South Dakota Energy Infrastructure Authority and South Dakota Energy Task Force, December 2005, p. 63.]

As of 2013, his position did not appear to have changed. Nodding toward deniers, he maintains that we can’t responsibly consume enormous quantities of a finite and polluting fuel source and not expect consequences:

“The globe’s always been changing,” Hanson said. It’s a point that he’ll concede to climate-change deniers. There’s also truth to some of their claims that humans aren’t the only source of greenhouse gases, he said. “That’s fine. Let’s recognize that.”

But we annually burn 24 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 1 billion tons of coal, and 7 billion barrels of oil every year in North America alone, he said. “How can burning that much fossil fuel … have zero effect on our climate?” Hanson asked. “I can’t image how it could not.”

There’s no end to the political argument over climate science, so Hanson tries to approach the issue from a different perspective. Most people will agree that people have a responsibility to be good stewards of the planet, and most people will agree that fossil fuels are a finite resource. “Once they are burned, they are gone forever.” For those reasons alone, the nation has a responsibility to conserve and find alternatives, “because we want our great grandchildren to be able to have the quality of life that we do” [Don Haugen, “In South Dakota, Seeking Safe Islands for Energy Policy,” Midwest Energy News, 2013.12.09].

Commissioner Hanson still stood in the way of Keystone XL opponents who wanted to discuss climate change as a reason to deny TransCanada its permit to build the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline across South Dakota (the renewal hearing on which is happening in Pierre right now). But Commissioner Hanson’s affirmation of anthropogenic climate change and the need for us anthropos to stop generating it should weigh on our discussion of President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. According to this map, the President’s plan would require South Dakota to make the biggest percentage cuts in carbon dioxide emission rates by 2030 relative to 2012 rates:

However, as Grist points out, South Dakota would still have an option to be able to emit more CO2 in 2030 than it did in 2012, just not as much as current plans to bulk up on dirty fossil-fuel power would. President Obama’s plan allows states to write their own emissions-reduction plan and choose whether they want to reduce the rate of CO2 emissions per megawatt-hour of electricity produced or the overall mass of CO2 emissions. But either way, we’d be meeting the goal that Commissioner Gary Hanson has said we should pursue of reducing our impact on the climate and leaving our grandkids a better environment.


  1. 96Tears 2015-08-05

    The happy talk from Hanson is typical of Republicans caught in the crossfire of schlepping for Big Fossil Fuels and South Dakotans investing in wind projects and ethanol. Rounds talked like a champ for clean energy at the dedication of the Ree Heights wind project, but he talks like a luddite now. Daugaard spouted the happy talk about climate change, wind energy and clean energy when he visited the wind blades factory in Aberdeen in 2010, but, alas, he’s another shill as Governor for fossil fuels’ lobby. As to Hanson, he’s had feet planted firmly on both sides of the fence, mostly as a vehement critic of people who believe 99 percent of climate scientists who say climate change is damaging our world and is created by unabated fossil fuel use.

  2. leslie 2015-08-05

    in 1491 Indians managed the great plains and forests of north america with fire, seasonally encouraging new growth, enhancing bison herds to 30 million, and predators alike.

    by the 1800s we whites fished out the cod, killed all the furbearers for european hats, the dangerous bears and wolves and cougars, bison for genocide of Indians in our way, and took down the forests. now we are destroying our air and water, abandoning regulation for capitalization.

    in 2015 people in the republican party like gary hansen shouted down changing the name of Indians’ sacred peak in the paha sapa, in defense of generals named harney, grant and custer.

    now climate change threatens us all and what do hansen, daugaard, jackley, rounds, thune and noem do…more of the same.

  3. Douglas Wiken 2015-08-05

    Good thing all those Native Americans don’t use any fuel, or electricity, or modern communications, or modern medicine.

  4. Paul Seamans 2015-08-05

    Gary Hanson’s above letter from 2005 puts him far ahead of me in the belief that mankind has been affecting climate change. I did not start accepting that premises until about five years ago. I think people should cut him a little slack.

  5. mhs 2015-08-05

    As I recall, part of the impetus for the BigStone II project was that the larger plant capacity would generate sufficient revenues to make the needed emissions reduction improvements feasible. The benefit of the new transmission line that was part of the project would mean greater windfarm development was possible on the SD side of the border. MN’s PUC scuttled the transmission line not wanting to see any capacity increase at Bigstone.

    I wonder if the new standards might change the math and make MN more interested? Will be interesting to see what develops.

  6. Lynn 2015-08-05


    I doubt Minnesota would be interested in a renewed effort for Bigstone 2. They would probably fight it since they are concerned with cross state coal fired plant emissions drifting over and settling on Minnesota. They already having mercury advisories for fish consumption from many of their lakes. That state is one of the most aggressive in the nation in diversifying their energy portfolio with renewable energy and is in the process of either shutting down a few of their older, dirtier coal fired plants or scaling them back in operation. Their Sherco coal fired plant is massive up in Becker Mn. Two nuke plants in operation.

  7. Roger Cornelius 2015-08-05

    And once again Wiken pokes his head out of his sod house in the Sand Hills not knowing that Native Americans do use the same fuels that he does, do have access and use modern communications (I wouldn’t be writing this without it).
    And about Native Americans using modern medicine, well you know, we All go to the medicine man.

  8. mhs 2015-08-05

    That’s my point Lynn, if MN needs to shutter more of its outdated plants, an updated Bigstone to supply NW MN’s needs might make it easier for the state to meet its reduction targets, which are nearly as high as SD’s. The targets are source-defined, not end-point defined and MN has massively more generation than SD does, making them have to do much more to meet the target. If the EPA also has included transportation emissions in the overall formula, the shorter train hauls to Bigstone will factor in as well.

    The new rules are definitely going to force some changes that previously might not have been thought feasible and require thinking outside the box. Should be interesting to watch.

  9. Lynn 2015-08-05


    Good points! Interesting times ahead.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-05

    Oh, Douglas, you’re cruising for a bruising, aren’t you? ;-)

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-05

    MHS, are you saying that Minnesota benefits by encouraging coal-fired generation in other states since it won’t count against their EPA tab under the President’s plan, even though the emissions are right across their border? If that’s the case, does South Dakota have room under its own new EPA goals for Big Stone II’s emissions?

    And come on, do we have to invest in coal to get the transmission for clean energy?

  12. leslie 2015-08-05

    paul, a positive vote by hanson on the PUC is a good thing and if it occurs, despite the majority approval that may be likely, i will praise him as long as it was honest and not political. i appreciate his positions similarly since 2005. however, anyone in a power position in the SDGOP is gonna get called out for every insanity the party pulls. this is team sports, not individual ethics. imo

  13. Paul Seamans 2015-08-05

    Leslie, I have known Gary Hanson since back in 2009 during the original hearings on the Keystone XL. I feel that Gary Hanson is an honorable man. I have been fighting this pipeline since the spring of 2008. If Gary Hanson votes to approve the KXL I will think that he has given it a lot of thought and is basing his decision on legitimate reasons. I will not agree with that decision but I will not accuse him of succumbing to TransCanada’s threats or to TransCanada’s promises.

  14. MOSES 2015-08-05


  15. MOSES 2015-08-05

    Lot of thought , give me a break.He will fall in line like the other three clowns in D.C and do what he is told.

  16. leslie 2015-08-05

    gary, a realtor, has been in the republican party in a position of power and public service for some 33 years and has strong ties to NSU, Board of Regent’s private little economic development instrument for republican shills, like EB5 “beneficiaries” that may have absconded with files and state money from a some $600,000,000 cash flow cover-up before the last national senate election. In fact he chaired the GOAC audit committee in the past while a state senator and has been quoted as saying one has to admit that there are other sources of CO2 pollution than fossil fuels.

    he walks a razor’s edge and i wonder if he serves the people, or daugaard ect. in his role as one of 3 PUC commissioners, and is imo purely a political animal.

    My hat is off to you for YOUR service and advocacy!

  17. leslie 2015-08-05

    “the greenhouse effect…has been enhanced by more than a century EXTERNALIZING environmental costs of STUPENDOUS economic growth [in the usa, btw, by stealing Indian natural resources via genocide] LOADING the atmosphere with:

    42% more CO2;

    250% more methane;

    42% more ozone; and

    20% more nitrous oxide

    making OUR oceans too acidic threatening the base of the food chain.” (my emphasis)
    huffpo, 08.15.2015 glacial prof. j.e. box, greenland/sweden

    gary wants to address climate change by “not effecting” the energy utilities.

  18. leslie 2015-08-05

    NASA scientist Dr. JAMES Hansen famously labeled the outcome for a changing climate from approval of the KXL pipeline as “GAME OVER”! huffpo, 08.05.2015, j. henn

  19. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-08-05

    I read something in the paper today about the equipment that tests for methane emissions. A consensus is beginning to develop that it is not as accurate as thought. It is probably under measuring the methane. Not good news at all.

  20. Paul Seamans 2015-08-05

    leslie, I will admit that I do not know Gary Hanson extensively but that I know him from my dealings with the PUC on the Keystone XL issue. He has treated me fairly and my statement that he is an honorable man is based on my gut feeling.
    Thank you for your compliment to me, that was nice. And thank you for your advocacy to protect Mother Earth.

  21. leslie 2015-09-24

    Exploring new stretches of the galaxy brought NASA scientist William Borucki back to Earth.

    Borucki, 76, retired in July as the principal investigator of NASA’s Kepler Mission, an unmanned spacecraft that has been surveying a portion of the Milky Way for habitable planets since March 2009. The mission has discovered more than 1,000 confirmed planets and inspired many to think about what, if any, life is out there.

    But Borucki said it also made him reconsider life on Earth — and its fate in light of climate change.

    “The Earth is a very special place,” Borucki said in an interview with The Huffington Post last week. “Unless we have the wisdom and technology to protect our biosphere, it could become like many other dead worlds.”

    Borucki, who began his career at NASA in 1962 working on the Apollo mission, was awarded the prestigious Shaw Prize for Astronomy on Wednesday in Hong Kong. (9.24.15)

    That my young friend Spencer, is hard science.

  22. leslie 2015-09-26

    NOAA-global conveyor (gulf stream) stopping now and could be catastrophic to world weather, rising seas. washpost today, chris mooney (yesterday). NOAA

  23. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-09-26

    Yes Leslie, I’ve been reading about the big cold blob of water in the north Atlantic Ocean. It’s already wreaking havoc on the ocean currents that have kept our weather functioning as we’re accustomed to for centuries. People ought to be scared.

  24. leslie 2015-12-03

    thune yesterday said ACA is a complete failure. rounds says KXL denial is a disaster. noem hasn’t read it but will not re-approve EB5. tres amigas. can they stay in denial much longer?


    Speaking after foreign minister Julie Bishop ridiculed a Labor claim that one of the Marshall Islands had disappeared into the sea, Marshall Island’s foreign minister Tony de Brum told Guardian Australia he was hoping Australia might soon start to take the countries’ fears about the impact of climate change as seriously as the US president did. gaurdian, this morning.

  25. leslie 2015-12-03

    “This president clearly worships at the altar of climate change,” U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds told The Associated Press. “I’d much rather be buying oil from our friends in North Dakota and our friends in Canada than the Iranians, and I think this president and this secretary of state are going to have a lot of explaining to do” [“SD Keystone XL Review Goes on Despite President’s Rejection,” AP via Rapid City Journal, 2015.11.06]. cory, last week or so.

    hey, deb, missed yah lately!

  26. leslie 2015-12-14

    The President should remember that the historic agreement “is subject to being shredded in 13 months,” McConnell said.
    Associated Press
    Kevin Freking
    12/13/2015 07:27 am ET
    huffpo, 12.13.15

    there’s the ole’ mitch we love to hate. watch for thune to chime in. time for a 47 senator letter to … who? what??…to 200 nations? there is no one they can write to, to undermine and sabotage world nations’ good work.

  27. leslie 2016-02-19

    climate change mitigation is the single largest public health issue in the world. EVER. let’s not let republicans take us away from this fundamental understanding in the history AND FUTURE of the country and the world.

    npr, pri, science Friday, 12;45 pm, 2.19.16

    scotus decision re: epa must not be left at the mercy of RAGA (republican attorneys general association of which our own jackley is an eager participant and likely envisions himself a republican legal leader [which he has surely demonstrated he is NOT]).

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