North Dakota’s Public Service Commission has three members — with one up for re-election every two years. This year, it’s Chairman Brian Kroshus.
He was appointed to the commission by Gov. Doug Burgum in 2017 to fill a vacancy and was elected the following year. Kroshus spent three decades in the private sector, which included 10 years as publisher of the Bismarck Tribune.
“Those elements along with doing business in the community and not just in Bismarck, Mandan but across the state I think has prepared me in a good way. I think I have a good handle on what everyday citizens want out of government,” Kroshus said.
Kroshus’s challenger, Casey Buchmann, is running on the Democratic-NPL ticket. Buchmann’s experience includes 30 years as a union ironworker who says he’s worked in many of the areas the PSC regulates.
“My firsthand knowledge to the insight of it, how everything works, brings a different aspect to what anybody offers there on the Public Service Commission now,” Buchmann said.
The PSC regulates rates for electric and natural gas utilities. It also approves applications for gas processing plants, power plants and, of course, pipelines.
Friday, the commission will hear arguments for a Montana-Dakota Utilities rate increase. Kroshus says his decision will be rooted in his commitment to the rule of law.
“It’s about applying statute, the laws as they are written and then determining, fairly, whether or not a company, MDU in this instance, is entitled to recovery on those expenditures,” Kroshus said.
Buchmann says he thinks the PSC should have requested CARES Act money to avoid increases, but he didn’t rule out approving the hike.
“I would have to hear a very good argument from MDU, but I also put the blame in some of the ways on the PSC not forward-thinking on this matter at all. Instead, they chose to be quiet, they chose to not do anything,” Buchmann said.
Regarding the expansion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which the PSC unanimously voted in favor of this February, Kroshus says the process was transparent and legal.
“Those hearings in particular — that’s about whether or not the company is meeting the requirements set forth in law and we determined that the company did,” Kroshus said.
Buchmann says the legal controversy surrounding the pipeline should’ve prompted a closer look at the situation.
“I’m all for jobs, but I probably would’ve ruled in favor of it, but I also would’ve looked at and said ‘Hey this is what could happen, maybe we should hold off construction on it.’ I would’ve said something,” Buchmann said.
Both candidates gave their final pitches to voters.
“We need to set the table so future generations have more opportunity than we have today, and I think there is ample opportunity in the state,” Kroshus said.
“I’m a person who would listen to the people, listen to your voices. I would be something very different. Bismarck is a bog and the deeper you dig into a bog, it gets really stinky. So I’d be fresh air in a stinky bog,” Buchmann said.
Whoever is elected will serve a six-year term on the commission, and this isn’t the first time those two candidates have gone head-to-head. In 2018, Kroshus beat Buchmann by a 24 point margin in an election to finish the two years of the term left vacant by Brian Kalk, who took a new job.