Freshman state Sen. Tyler Axness, D-Fargo, says he’s running for the North Dakota Public Service Commission to provide balance to the department and to advocate for what he calls a more proactive approach to statewide development.
Axness announced his candidacy Tuesday afternoon at the Kennedy Center in Bismarck. He is seeking to serve the final two years of the seat held by Republican Julie Fedorchak. She was appointed to the seat to fill the vacancy left Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. when he was elected to Congress in 2012.
In his announcement, Axness declared he would seek to foster a more proactive role within the PSC in its regulatory oversight. He also would be more stringent in penalizing companies that commit violations of existing state law.
“Since the early 2000s it became apparent to me ... that we need change in leadership in the state’s Capitol,” Axness said. “The people of this state deserve better.”
Axness talked about state officials recently beginning conversations about possibly having the state take the lead regulatory role in intrastate liquid pipelines. The conversations stemmed from the Sept. 29, 2013, incident near Tioga in which more than 20,000 barrels of oil leaked onto a field.
Those conversations should have been underway years ago before the oil boom in western North Dakota began its rapid ascent, Axness said.
Taking a broader aim at the state’s overall leadership, Axness pointed to the Dec. 30 Casselton train derailment and placing of oil pits over the water supply for the city of Ross as examples of failures.
Axness declared the lack of PSC oversight of liquid pipelines along with incidents such as those in Casselton and Ross as being “what a lack of planning and leadership has brought” to North Dakota.
“We should’ve been planning long ago greater refinery capacity and greater pipeline capacity. We can no longer stand for short-term reactive (policies),” Axness said.
Axness admitted that if the PSC had jurisdiction over intrastate liquid pipelines at the time of the Tioga spill it wouldn’t have prevented the spill.
“We could have had a greater response,” Axness said.
He said another major priority for him is accountability. While many companies are operating responsibly, he said, those that commit serious violations of state law should be held accountable through fines or legal action.
Fedorchak lists top priorities
Fedorchak said in a statement: “I launched my campaign for the Public Service Commission in November and outlined my top priorities:
“1. Maintaining reliable, affordable electric service for North Dakota customers.
“2. Supporting efforts to reduce flaring through the effective siting of pipeline infrastructure.
“3. Improving the safety of pipeline infrastructure through effective siting and construction, aggressive enforcement of Call Before You Dig laws, and effective safety inspections and monitoring.
“All of these initiatives are relevant to the Public Service Commission and are tasks I work hard on every day in service to my fellow North Dakotans.”
Axness represents District 16 in Fargo and was elected to the Senate in 2012. He serves on the Transportation Committee and the Human Services Committee.
He’s also the communication and policy coordinator for the Freedom Resources Center, a disability rights organization in Fargo. He serves on the Metro Area Mayors Committee and is a member of the Fargo-Moorhead Chamber of Commerce.
Axness is the first challenger in the PSC race. In addition to the seat held by Fedorchak, commission Chairman Brian Kalk is up for re-election to a full six-year term.