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Will Dusty Johnson Miss the Keystone XL Hearings?

November 2, 2009
Pierre capitol 012

The South Dakota statehouse, home of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission

Today was the first day of the Keystone XL hearings at the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. Things got off to an uncertain start when PUC staff announced that the PUC’s Chairman, Dusty Johnson, was home sick, probably with the H1N1 virus. The staff said Johnson and no one else had the day’s agenda. There was momentary confusion as no one knew whether the parties needed to make opening statements.

Commissioner Steve Kolbeck stepped up to run the proceeding, and it got going.

AP coverage of the day’s events is here.

The Commissioners asked a lot of questions. Topics ranged from the potential impact of the project on the limited medical resources of sparsely populated West River counties to the kind of leak detection systems the project would use.

The PUC staff also asked questions. They seemed most concerned when they asked about permitting for water and sewage systems that would serve a temporary camp housing hundreds of Keystone XL construction workers and also when they asked about training to make sure the construction crews would recognize a valuable fossil if they found one.

The PUC staff is charged with protecting the interests of the people of South Dakota, and they have resources to hire experts that Dakota Rural Action (whom Plains Justice is representing) does not. Hiring experts not only produces testimony, but also helps attorneys prepare tough questions for cross examination. Since the PUC staff have hired experts, we hope that the staff will ask tougher questions tomorrow than they did today.

Because questioning is going very rapidly, it’s beginning to look like Tuesday could be the final day (and evening) of the proceedings, instead of Thursday. There is a public comment opportunity beginning at 6 pm on Tuesday.

If things do end tomorrow, will PUC Chairman Dusty Johnson be back, or will he have missed all opportunity to ask questions himself? PUC staff said today he was following the hearings over the Internet from home. Given how much Johnson seems to enjoy being a Commissioner and taking part in proceedings, that has to be frustrating for him. Get well soon, Commissioner Johnson.

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