43 granted intervener status in proceedings

Farm Forum

PIERRE — The state Public Utilities Commission granted intervener status Tuesday to all 43 people and organizations that asked to be formal parties in the latest round of proceedings regarding the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL oil pipeline through South Dakota.

Interveners can present evidence, call witnesses, examine other witnesses and engage in discovery. A hearing date hasn’t been set.

The commission granted the original state permit for the project in June 2010. But the permit entered dormant status this year, because the project didn’t advance to the construction stage within the four years set in state law.

TransCanada, meanwhile, remains on hold, waiting since 2009 for federal approval from the Obama administration in order to pierce the Canada-U.S. border.

The current proceeding before the state commission is a petition for certification by TransCanada. That means the company wants to keep the permit valid.

TransCanada maintains that the circumstances on which the permit was based remain the same, and the company will comply with the permit conditions.

The pipeline would begin in the area of Hardisty, Alberta. It would cross the Canada-U.S. border at Morgan, Mont., and enter South Dakota at the state’s northwest corner.

The route would continue on an approximately 45-degree angle southeast into south-central South Dakota, enter Nebraska and turn south to Steele City, Neb. The South Dakota segment is about 315 miles.

William Taylor, a Sioux Falls lawyer representing TransCanada, asked the PUC to reject intervener status for 16 Nebraska people and the Bold Nebraska organization that is leading the fight against Keystone XL in that state.

Taylor also attempted to block the intervener applications from an international climate-change organization known as and from two tribal members who live in Minnesota and represent tribal utility and preservation organizations.

The commission granted intervener status to all of them on a series of 3-0 votes. The process took one hour and 45 minutes.

Chairman Gary Hanson said the term “interested person” isn’t defined in the state laws governing PUC permitting. He said the laws also provide intervener status for environmental organizations.

“This is why we’re so lenient in granting party status, because the doors are so open on this,” Hanson told Taylor.

Commissioner Chris Nelson said he reads the laws to mean the commission has flexibility in deciding who can intervene, and Commissioner Kristie Fiegen said the Legislature “intentionally” wrote the law in broad language so the PUC could be inclusive.

The project is a dividing point among various candidates running for election in South Dakota this year.

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