Jeff Barth knows how to stir the pot. On Saturday, Barth accepted the Democratic nomination for Public Utilities Commissioner and immediately went on the warpath against carbon dioxide pipelines, eminent domain, and incumbent Republican Commissioner Chris Nelson:
…“So my opponent Chris Nelson says he has nothing to do with eminent domain. Eminent domain is certainly something he gives to a company when they get a permit for a project. He is telling a lie when he says eminent domain has nothing to do with him.”
“He (Nelson) then goes on to say that he cannot, that he has to approve a project if they check all the boxes,” Barth continued. “Why don’t we have the DMV handle the paperwork? Check all the boxes, let that company use eminent domain to damage your land permanently, to endanger your family. What do we have beside land and family? Let’s not let that happen” [Bob Mercer, “SD Democrats Don’t Run a Candidate Against Jackley,” KELO-TV, updated 2022.07.10].
Commissioner Nelson interrupted his peaceful Sunday to respond to his new challenger:
“First and most importantly, the permit process is guided by state law. Commissioners aren’t free to do whatever they want. Jurisdiction is granted to the commission by state law. The PUC operates within that jurisdiction. Any action outside of that jurisdiction would certainly be struck down by the courts,” Nelson said.
Nelson continued, “Commissioners don’t get to make up the criteria they want (to) use to determine whether a permit should or should not be granted. That criteria is established in state law. Every siting permit application I have voted on has been and must be guided by the criteria in state law. Granting or denying a permit based on something other than criteria in state law would be struck down by the courts.
Nelson also defended his lifestyle as a rural landowner. “I have been involved in farming or ranching in various degrees my entire life. Any insinuation that I don’t value and respect the land and those who care for it would show a deep misunderstanding of who I am,” he said.
But Nelson also used the opportunity to issue a fundraising email. “The race is on and it appears my opponent will say whatever it takes to win. I ask for your help to make sure that doesn’t happen!” he said [Bob Mercer, “Nelson Responds to Barth’s Accusation That He Lied,” KELO-TV, updated 2022.07.11].
A certain satirical commenter on this blog would say that Barth has won Round 1 by getting Nelson’s goat. I return to commentary back in 2007 when TransCanada was trying to exclude discussion of eminent domain from the PUC permit hearings on its Keystone pipeline (not XL, but 1, the pipeline TransCanada actually built with eminent domain to leak tar sands oil up and down East River). The PUC itself does not hold hearings on and grant eminent domain—that’s up to the courts. But as then PUC Chairman Dusty Johnson told the public in June 2007, the PUC should base permit decisions on “environmental impacts, whether Keystone would adversely affect the orderly development of the region through which it passes and whether it would create undue safety and welfare hazards.” Eminent domain can disrupt the orderly development of a region and create welfare hazards to the citizens whose land the pipeline company seizes by judicial force. The commission has the authority to set conditions on permits, as it did with Keystone 1. Why not make one of those conditions, “You can build your carbon dioxide permit, but only if you get the consent of every landowner along the route, without resorting to eminent domain”?
Jeff Barth is raising a salient point: why should the Public Utilities Commission or any other state leaders simply roll over for a questionable carbon dioxide pipeline scheme that will force South Dakota landowners to surrender their property to Iowa profiteers? And in raising this point, Barth shows all statewide candidates how to get in the headlines and get South Dakotans, including his opponent, talking about important issues we should consider when we vote in November.