Often overlooked but more important than ever, Montana Public Service Commission races are starting to get some coverage.
How are we going to toast our muffins in the morning? And mill our logs into 2x4s? Where are we going to find the electricity to do these things? Conservation would be helpful but for sure coal, wind, hydro, solar and natural gas will be in the mix. But what’s the trade off? These are just some of the questions the PSC will be grappling with in the next few years.
In the news, there’s a PSC coup a-brewing. All of the commissioners are Republicans but three out of the five are lining up against incumbent District 2 Commissioner Kirk Bushman, reports Mike Dennison. Commissioners Brad Johnson, Travis Kavulla, and Roger Koopman held a fundraiser in Billings for Bushman’s opponent, Republican Tony O’Donnell.
(Way to go, Democrats, for not fielding a candidate in this race, as the winner of the June Republican primary will be that district’s next commissioner.)
Kavulla is the friendliest toward consumers and the environment, and that isn’t saying much. So, if Johnson and the “Koopdog” think Bushman is a little too close to the utilities he regulates, that’s saying something. An example: only Bushman and District 4’s Bob Lake voted to pass the costs of another Colstrip Unit 4 breakdown along to consumers.
Let’s take a look at Lake. He has three Democrats vying for his seat, all of whom would be a vast improvement. Here’s an outtake from a guest column by former PSC commissioner and candidate Gail Gutsche on Lake’s Colstrip vote:
Commissioner Lake, who represents those of us who live in north- and southwestern Montana, did not agree with the majority of the PSC. He seemed eager to give NorthWestern a pass on what were some very questionable business decisions. Apparently he thinks consumers should pay for NorthWestern’s mistakes.
The third PSC race features a Democrat and an Independent facing off against District 3 incumbent Koopman in the November general election. Democrat Pat Noonan, out of Butte, has name recognition having served eight years in the Montana House of Representatives. Independent newcomer Caron Cooper lives in Livingston. She had an opinion piece the other day at Montana Cowgirl worth a read. A snippet:
Over the past year, I identified three trends that appear to have contributed to a decline in objectivity and effectiveness in the PSC: term limits; partisan politics; and accepting donations in past campaigns from one of the biggest monopolies the PSC charged with regulating. I believe these trends go a long way towards explaining why the PSC seems to be working counter to its own mission of protecting Montana consumers.
I heard Cooper at a Democratic Party function last summer but I believe that after Noonan filed, she went Independent, with the blessing of the party. That she has a post at Cowgirl confirms this. I’ll be curious to see the numbers at the close of this race. Independents have a tough row to hoe but since it has already been a weird campaign season, who knows how Cooper’s candidacy will impact the outcome.
All three PSC races deserve attention. The dysfunction at the PSC until January 2017 is palpable: District 2’s Bushman and primary challenger O’Donnell are duking it out. District 4’s Lake is not getting any love from the commission’s majority. District 3’s Koopman, by having Democratic and Independent challengers, is making his campaign worthy of attention.
The winning candidates will be involved in Montana’s energy future and “regulating private, investor-owned natural gas, electric, telephone, water and private sewer companies, intrastate railroads, certain motor carriers hauling regulated commodities and natural gas pipeline safety regulations.”
Just those things, so please pay attention and vote accordingly.