Republican PSC plays high-stakes political game

by Dr. Ed Berry

On September 5, 2015, the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) held a ceremony in Pablo, Montana. Their ceremony recognized their purchase of the now “Salish Kootenai” Dam.

Their purchase was under the terms of the agreement they negotiated with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 1985.

Norman Bay, Chairman of FERC, was there to formally transfer ownership to the CSKT. Montana Lt Governor Angela McLean gave a historic speech. Tribal council members, drums, and dancers added to the ceremony.

Trip Burns of the Lake County Leader summed up the sale agreement on August 27, 2015,

“The CSKT will be the first Indian tribes in the United States to own and operate a major hydropower facility. The CSKT obtained exclusive rights to the Kerr Project in 2015.

“The exclusive rights are part of agreement provisions in 1985 agreement with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license.

“The license is the sole jurisdiction of FERC, and will preempt any state regulation. The dam was completed in 1938 by the Montana Power Company (MPC), and held the license until 1985.

“That year, CSKT and MPC were granted a joint license by FERC. PPL Montana and Northwestern Energy (NWE) owned and operated the Kerr Project succeeding MPC and have overseen operation since it’s construction.”

But on October 1, 2015, the Republican-controlled Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) had second thoughts. It decided to try to negate the sale of the Dam to the CSKT.

Kim Briggeman wrote in the Missoulian on October 1, 2015,

“… the all-Republican Montana Public Service Commission on Thursday asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to hold hearings to determine if the public process was properly vetted.

“The state commission said the federal agency erred by not setting a public hearing to determine if the transfer of the license is in the public interest.”

Briggeman reported PSC Chairman Brad Johnson, R-East Helena, added,

“FERC’s proceeding left far too many unanswered questions. Those living in the communities affected by this transfer must have ample opportunity to ask questions and provide input, and this proceeding fell short of that standard.”

Brad Johnson is running for Montana governor in 2016.

The legal issues on this are way above my pay grade. So I will have to wait for the courts to decide whether or not the PSC acted wisely yesterday.

Suffice it to say if the courts decide PSC’s request to FERC is without merit, it will not help Brad Johnson’s run for Montana governor. I am sorry to write this because, to be honest, I personally support Brad Johnson for governor.

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