SD Public Utilities Commission

SD Public Utilities Commission

The federal government cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent at the end of last year. In response, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission moved quickly to ensure that corporate utilities passed those savings along to their customers. SDPB's Victoria Wicks covered that story last December and has an update on the PUC's progress.

The South Dakota Supreme Court issued an opinion on Thursday, June 14, that state courts don't have jurisdiction over certification of the Keystone XL pipeline permit.

Pipeline opponents appealed the Public Utilities Commission's 2014 certfication of TransCanada's 2010 permit.

On appeal, a Sixth Circuit judge upheld the certification, and opponents appealed that decision.

Now the high court says neither the Sixth Circuit nor the Supreme Court has standing under state law to hear the appeal.

The federal tax reduction for corporations is now in effect. In anticipation, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission has set a schedule for investigating how tax cuts can be passed along to energy consumers.

The PUC will hear from six investor-owned South Dakota utilities in two stages. The first deadline for reports is Feb. 1. After that, PUC staff will work with each utility individually to come up with numbers.

In formulating a plan of action, PUC staffer Brittany Mehlhaff says all rates should be adjusted and subject to refund.

South Dakota energy consumers could see a reduction in utility rates as a result of the new federal tax law. President Donald Trump signed the tax bill into law on Friday, Dec. 22, cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

Investor-owned utilities could be required to pass those savings along to their customers. The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission has set a hearing for Dec. 29 to give state utilities an opportunity to comment. SDPB's Victoria Wicks has more.

SD Public Utilities Commission

South Dakota's PUC chairwoman says the Nebraska Public Service Commission is bound by state law, as are the public utility commissions in all states. And so she says the Nebraska PSC had to make its decision to permit the Keystone XL pipeline based on the evidence they received.

Kristie Fiegen says commissions have to interpret state law and apply that to the evidence and filings.

Victoria Wicks

The Keystone XL pipeline got the go-ahead from the Trump administration in March. The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission had already done the work to allow it to cross this state. But still the pipeline is not a done deal. There are appeals pending in the South Dakota Supreme Court and Montana federal court. And Nebraska still hasn't permitted it.

Victoria Wicks

The Keystone XL pipeline has had a long history for something that so far does not yet exist. It's future has not been decided either.

South Dakota's Public Utilities Commission first permitted the pipeline to cut diagonally across the western half of the state in 2010.

But TransCanada did not complete the project within four years, and so state law required the company to make assurances that it could still meet the requirements of the permit.

Victoria Wicks

The Keystone XL pipeline is at issue once again, this time in a South Dakota courtroom. Opponents filed an appeal in 2016 after the Public Utilities Commission gave the go-ahead for the pipeline the previous year. On Wednesday in Pierre, a Sixth Circuit judge heard oral arguments in the case.

Opponents say the PUC didn't do its job to ensure that TransCanada can build a safe pipeline.

But the PUC and TransCanada say the outcome followed state law.

SDPB's Victoria Wicks traveled to Pierre to get this report.

Victoria Wicks

Two candidates for Public Utilities Commissioner came together for a forum in Sturgis on Saturday, Oct. 29.

Incumbent Chris Nelson and challenger Henry Red Cloud spent about an hour introducing themselves to the audience and answering questions, primarily about renewable energy. Questions about Keystone pipelines, both in eastern and western South Dakota, were off the table because of ongoing litigation surrounding both.

This is the only time these candidates will make a joint appearance during their campaign.

Victoria Wicks

Incumbent Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson faced challenger Henry Red Cloud at a forum in Sturgis this weekend. This is the only joint appearance the two will make this election season.

Red Cloud says it's time for South Dakota to move away from fossil fuels and into renewable energy.

Nelson says the PUC is legally mandated to keep utility rates low.

The forum was sponsored by Dakota Rural Action and Prairie Hills Audubon Society.


Landowners and regulators are watching as crews search for the source of an oil sheen in southeastern South Dakota. The Keystone Pipeline is shut down as TransCanada teams drill for soil samples and excavate to figure out how oil got into the land. Officials with TransCanada say the oil covers about 300 square feet of land near Freeman.

Victoria Wicks file photo

If a presidential permit becomes available for the Keystone XL pipeline after the next election, it has the go-ahead to pass through western South Dakota. The state Public Utilities Commission, on Tuesday, Jan. 5, accepted TransCanada's certification of its ability to meet conditions outlined in the original permit granted in 2010. Commission Chairman Chris Nelson explained his thought processes and the legal reasons for the validation.

More of the story:

Photo courtesy of Faith Spotted Eagle

If the Keystone XL pipeline is built, a TransCanada contractor will set up three work camps, referred to as “man camps” by pipeline opponents. A TransCanada employee says up to 1,200 people will live in the camps, located in Harding, Meade, and Tripp counties. Some interveners express fears about the safety of the surrounding areas when that many people, most of them men, arrive. SDPB’s Victoria Wicks reports on this last witness in the Public Utilities Commission hearing that started July 27 and concluded Wednesday.

Victoria Wicks

At the Public Utilities Commission hearing in Pierre, a whistleblower testified earlier in the week, and Wednesday morning, TransCanada rebutted his testimony. Evan Vokes alleged TransCanada ignores regulations and uses faulty welding inspections. TransCanada says Vokes was a low-level employee without the required knowledge to make the allegations. SDPB’s Victoria Wicks reports on the hearing set to determine if TransCanada can still meet the conditions it agreed to in 2010, when the PUC first permitted the Keystone XL pipeline.

Victoria Wicks

The water resource director for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says the Keystone XL pipeline project potentially threatens water supplies for his reservation. Doug Crow Ghost testified before the Public Utilities Committee Tuesday in Pierre. The PUC hearing started a week ago and continues this week.

Six years ago, the first Keystone pipeline was under construction through several counties in Eastern South Dakota. One landowner testified Tuesday before the Public Utilities Commission in Pierre that reclamation has not been done. The PUC has been taking testimony for more than a week to determine if TransCanada, the Keystone XL pipeline parent company, can meet 50 conditions attached to its 2010 permit. Among those conditions is land reclamation. The Keystone XL, if built, will run through Western South Dakota.

Victoria Wicks

An economist from Oregon said Monday that the U.S. State Department’s socio-economic study of the Keystone XL pipeline is seriously flawed. The report was not generated by TransCanada but is included as an exhibit for PUC commissioners’ consideration. Kevin Cahill testified for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe at the ongoing Public Utilities Commission hearing, held to determine if TransCanada can meet the 50 conditions imposed on a 2010 permit.

For a thorough look at the Keystone projects and their effects on South Dakota economy, go to the following links to find past SDPB coverage.

Victoria Wicks

Tribal rights have been a touchy subject at the Public Utility Commission’s Keystone XL hearing in Pierre. A pre-hearing order issued by the commission excludes aboriginal title arguments, but not discussion of treaty rights, a distinction attorneys don’t agree on. The pipeline, if built, crosses the western half of South Dakota, over territory set aside for the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation by the Fort Laramie Treaties, and although most of that land is now out of trust, certain laws still apply.

Victoria Wicks

One of the most dogged opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline is John Harter, a landowner near Colome in Tripp County. He fought in court to keep TransCanada from siting the pipeline across his land, and he lost. At the Public Utilities Commission hearing in Pierre, he is an intervener, and as such may ask questions of TransCanada’s witnesses. Although he has a quiet voice and slight stature, he holds his own in a room full of lawyers.

Victoria Wicks

A former TransCanada employee referred to as a whistle-blower took the stand this weekend at the Public Utilities Commission hearing in Pierre. The meeting started last Monday and continues this week. Evan Vokes testified on Saturday, and his testimony continues Monday or Tuesday, depending on scheduling of other witnesses.

Victoria Wicks

If the Keystone XL pipeline is allowed to be built through Western South Dakota, TransCanada will dig a trench more than 300 miles long. The construction project is planned to go through territory occupied by indigenous people for thousands of years before settlers first arrived. As such, a tribal historic preservation officer says all tribes should be consulted.

Victoria Wicks

At the Public Utilities Commission’s hearing on the Keystone XL pipeline, there are parties with attorneys, and there are parties without attorneys. The latter are the individual interveners who want to know what’s going on because their lives and their land could be affected by the pipeline, especially if something goes wrong. They have the right to cross examine TransCanada’s witnesses, and some of them are learning the frustration of trying to get an answer.

Victoria Wicks

When TransCanada was given authority to build the Keystone XL Pipeline through Western South Dakota ten years ago, the Public Utilities Commission issued 50 amended conditions with the permit. Those 50 conditions are at the heart of the Keystone XL Pipeline hearing held this week and next.

To read the 50 conditions, go to this link and scroll down to page 25.

Victoria Wicks

A witness called by TransCanada on Tuesday has been bumped to later in the week. Rick Perkins was called to provide rebuttal testimony to a witness for the Yankton Sioux Tribe, but that witness had not yet testified and therefore could not be rebutted.

Victoria Wicks

Parties in the Keystone XL pipeline hearings in Pierre made opening statements Monday afternoon. Both opponents and proponents outlined what case they’ll try to make during the seven-day hearing, held before the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. SDPB’s Victoria Wicks is in Pierre covering the hearing held to determine if TransCanada can still meet the conditions set when the PUC gave the company its 2010 permit to build.

Photo courtesy of the Public Utilities Commission

Pipeline opponents raised objections to the absence of one Public Utilities Commissioner at a Keystone XL pipeline hearing that started Monday morning in Pierre.
Attorney Paul Blackburn, representing Bold Nebraska, says state law requires that absent commissioner Kristie Fiegen be replaced with a Governor’s appointee.
Fiegen has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer, a fact she has made public. She intends to review a complete transcript of the hearing or listen to audio of the entire hearing after she has recovered from treatment.

Victoria Wicks

After a year and a half of hearings, motions, and filings, the Public Utilities Commission is taking testimony on whether to authorize TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline across South Dakota. The commission started taking opening statements from opponents and proponents Monday morning. It’s been an emotionally charged issue on both sides.

Photo courtesy of the Public Utilities Commission

Public Utilities Commissioner Kristie Fiegen won’t attend a seven-day hearing that starts Monday as part of the permitting process for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Fiegen announced publicly earlier this year that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

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.

Photo by Victoria Wicks

The permit to allow Keystone XL Pipeline to cross South Dakota is on hold until later this summer. A hearing set for early May has been postponed to late July or early August, to allow opponents’ attorneys to sort through volumes of information delivered by TransCanada just ten days ago. This documents dump came after the Public Utilities Commission ordered the pipeline company to turn over all information requested by parties by April 17th.

Photo courtesy of the Public Utilities Commission

If  Tuesday’s Public Utilities Commission meeting is a sample of what’s to come, a four-day hearing next month promises to be exhausting and contentious. Commissioners heard hours of arguments from proponents and opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, laying the groundwork for the hearing set for May 5-8 in Pierre. SDPB’s Victoria Wicks reports on attempts by opponents to gain details of TransCanada’s plans, and the Canadian pipeline company’s attempts to protect that information.