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Democratic Public Utilities Commission candidate criticizes carbon pipeline

Jeff Barth gives a press conference at the Main Library in Sioux Falls. Barth is running for a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.
Slater Dixon
Jeff Barth gives a press conference in Sioux Falls. Barth is running for a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.

The Democratic candidate for the Public Utilities Commission is making carbon-capture pipelines a primary issue of his campaign.

Jeff Barth, currently a commissioner for Minnehaha County, is challenging incumbent Republican Chris Nelson for a seat on the PUC. The board oversees utilities and grants permits for some infrastructure projects, including pipelines.

In a press conference Thursday, Barth voiced his opposition to the Summit Carbon Solutions Pipeline. The project would transport liquified carbon dioxide through South Dakota for injection into underground geological formations in North Dakota.

Some farmers along the pipeline’s proposed route are concerned about its environmental impact. They’re also concerned that eminent domain will be used to obtain right-of-way for the pipeline without landowners’ consent.

“These pipelines will scar our land forever, and threaten our very lives,” Barth said. “No eminent domain for private gain.”

Barth criticized South Dakota GOP Chairman Dan Lederman for connections to Summit Carbon Solutions, the company behind the pipeline. Lederman represented the company at a Minnehaha County Commission meeting in March.

Barth described his Republican opponent as a “nice guy,” but criticized him for not doing enough to prevent eminent domain from being used to build the pipeline.

Victoria Wicks
Chris Nelson is a Republican running for re-election to the Public Utilities Commission.

“He claims to have nothing to do with corporations seizing private land, using eminent domain, damaging that land, then handing it back to the farmer,” Barth said. “It reminds me of Pontius Pilate: ‘Not me, wasn’t me.’ He’s lying again.”

Nelson has served on the PUC since 2011. He said Barth is misunderstanding the role of the commission.

“You cannot go into the state law book and find any connection between eminent domain and the Public Utilities Commission,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the confusion may be due to differences between the South Dakota PUC and the board in Iowa, where the pipeline has been hotly contested. The Iowa PUC, he said, has jurisdiction over eminent domain disputes.

Nelson said even though commissioners are elected officials, the PUC acts more like a court, making "administrative or quasi-judicial decisions."

“We’re not just making stuff up and making decisions based on personal bias,” Nelson said. “People appreciate having a commissioner who understands the rule of law, and who understands the position of the PUC.”

Nelson said his campaign will focus on reduced rates for electricity, expanding rural broadband and "decisions made on law and fact."

The South Dakota PUC has not made any formal rulings on Summit Carbon Solutions’ permit application, other than extending the filing deadline. Barth and Nelson will compete in the November general election.

Slater Dixon is a junior at Augustana University studying Government and Data Science. He was born in Sioux Falls and is based out of SDPB's Sioux Falls studio.
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