By NICK SMITH | Bismarck Tribune
Both candidates for the open seat on the state’s Public Service Commission see the utility regulatory board as an increasingly important player in properly managing the state’s energy infrastructure buildout.
Republican state Sen. Randy Christmann is running against Democrat Brad Crabtree. The two are running for the seat held by former commission chairman Tony Clark, who stepped down in late June to take a federal regulatory job in Washington, D.C. Bonny Fetch, an administrative law judge, is filling the vacancy until the winner of the election takes office Jan. 1.
Christmann, a Hazen resident, was first elected to the Senate in 1994, becoming assistant majority leader in 2000. Christmann serves on the Appropriations Committee and was appointed a member of the state’s Lignite Research Council by Gov. Ed Schafer. He’s also served on the board of West River Telecommunications since 1999.
Crabtree, who has a ranch south of Kulm, has been policy director for the Great Plains Institute since 2002. During this time he’s worked on energy policy with government, industry and environmental groups in the state and region. He’s also co-director for the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative, a national coalition that has submitted recommendations to Congress for expanding the country’s oil production. Crabtree ran unsuccessfully against Republican PSC member Kevin Cramer in 2010.
Christmann said he has a four-pronged campaign platform. The four issues are infrastructure development, development of the state’s agricultural resources, preservation of land and following state law. Christmann said his goal if elected is to encourage responsible development of North Dakota’s agriculture and energy industries so the state’s economy remains strong and continues to grow.
“There’s all kinds of opportunities in North Dakota,” Christmann said. “I want to keep this going. I don’t want this opportunity to be lost due to activist regulations putting this to a halt.”
Christmann said with the record oil production to the West during the current boom there is a serious need for enhancing the state’s energy infrastructure. He said a number of pipeline projects by oil and gas companies are under way and capacity is increasing. More needs to be done, he said, adding that “we ought to be refining more product here.”
He said more pipeline is needed in order to reduce the number of trucks traveling down western North Dakota roads. He said the increasing number of trucks on oil patch roads has caused serious damage. Hundreds of millions in state dollars are now being invested in oil patch road repairs and improvements.
“People all over would like to see us get this traffic off the road, build pipelines and move it (oil),” Christmann said.
Having more pipeline infrastructure also would help eliminate market discounts on Bakken crude oil, Christmann said. Bakken crude sells at a discount on the market compared to West Texas Intermediate crude oil, which is considered the benchmark in crude oil pricing. The price discount stems from a lack of adequate pipeline infrastructure, leading to constraints in shipping oil out of the region.
Farmers and ranchers also are impacted by the decisions the PSC makes, Christmann said. Utilities and pipeline companies deal with landowners while plotting courses for their projects.
“They need a fair shake in the process,” Christmann said.
Christmann said landowners should be given more consideration for what works best for them. He said he’s had experience dealing with right-of-way issues on his land.
“I think I bring a perspective to that to make the process better. The presence of someone who has experienced this (on their land) would go a long way,” Christmann said.
Christmann said the PSC needs to carefully manage the state’s energy infrastructure growth. At the same time, he said, the PSC must also keep from placing excessive regulations on businesses and industry.
“We need more of this infrastructure development but we can’t become another EPA. We also want a business environment that encourages this kind of growth,” Christmann said.
Christmann said his years of legislative and Lignite Research Council experience set him apart from his opponent. He said he believes in ensuring certainty through maintaining a pro-business regulatory environment. He said his opponent seems to favor government solutions on regulatory issues. Crabtree’s support for wind energy tax credits is one example, he said.
“The ‘government knows best’ approach doesn’t leave a strong likelihood that we’re going to have affordable power,” Christmann said.
Christmann’s campaign website is www.randychristmann.com.
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