Saturday, August 13, 2022

Whose PSC is it, anyway?

by Peg Brownlee
| July 28, 2022 12:00 AM

In a seemingly small but important way, the PSC (Public Service Commission) is seeking a rule change at their hearing on Aug. 2 to limit the ability of the public (the “P” in PSC) to provide suggestions and participate in the decisions made by the PSC.

For instance, input from organizations such as the Montana Environmental Information Center could be minimized or eliminated completely.

The PSC is a small but powerful government agency comprised of elected individuals. It controls utility rates and is supposed to “balance the interests of ratepayers with the need to maintain financially sound utilities.”

Former state senator Jennifer Fielder is leading the effort for this rule change. Let’s consider the source:

• As CEO of the American Lands Council, she advocated for the transfer of federal public lands to the states, opening up the possibility of sales of these lands to private individuals. This could make those lands vulnerable to sale and development by oil and gas companies.

• She opposed funding for land and water conservation.

• She has opposed creation of national monuments, which protect not only land but important cultural sites .

• She and her husband, Paul Fielder, past president of MT Trappers Association and now a legislator himself, sought to amend the Montana Constitution to protect trapping. (Note: hunting and fishing have always been protected in our Constitution, and trapping was intentionally omitted partly due to its indiscriminate and non-fair chase, non-clean kill nature.)

They spent a lot of legislative time, energy and money to enshrine a personal recreational pursuit, shared by only 0.1% of Montanans. Perhaps this time could have been better spent working on issues important to his constituency?

Paul Fielder successfully made trapping/killing bills one of his biggest priorities in the last legislative session, and the decimation of our wolf population ensued. Continuation of the war on wolves is proposed for the next legislative session, including baiting with poisons. This indiscriminate and cruel activity will be happening on our public lands and is a clear danger to the public.

Let’s not let that happen. The good folks of his constituency should demand attention to their issues rather than promoting and securing the Fielders’ form of recreation.

• Jennifer Fielder supported the attempt to take over the Malhauer National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016. She is a member of the Sanders Natural Resource Council, run by Militia Montana. Nationwide, another instance of the infiltration of elected officials with extreme views into state governments. We do not want extremist takeover of our public lands, which could deny public land access to Montanans, endanger wildlife and harm the environment. It could easily happen here, folks. Be vigilant.

• After terming-out of the Legislature, she was elected to the PSC in 2020. She had expensive billboards for her campaign to get elected to a five-person commission, touting “freedom, family and faith” dressed in camo. Unfortunately for those who value public lands, wildlife and clean energy, the public bought it.

• Fielder has ties to the oil and gas industry. One of her top campaign contributors is Farris Wilks, of Frac Tech Services, an oil and gas exploration company.

• Motives for changes in the PSC are unclear, but this proposed rule change could further damage the PSC’s transparency and accountability (they were investigated for shady practices in 2021). Comments and concerns of the public should be encouraged and welcomed, not silenced.

All of this adds up to danger for our environment, wildlife and public lands. It also could hit Montanans in the pocketbook if the public is not allowed a free and unencumbered say in how rates are set. It could discourage or limit access to clean energy alternatives.

If you care, please voice your concerns to the PSC. Tell them you expect transparency and open participation by the public, not more complicated rules. Please add your voice and make a difference.

Peg Brownlee lives in Florence.

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