BISMARCK — One seat on the North Dakota Public Service Commission is up for grabs in this year's election, bringing a rematch of the 2018 contest between current commission chairman Brian Kroshus and the political outsider Casey Buchmann.

Kroshus, a Republican, said his goals for another term on the PSC don't differ much from the priorities of his last three years. He ranked responsible infrastructure development as the top of his list, followed by maintaining low utility rates and effective enforcement of the state's one-call law on construction sites.

The PSC holds jurisdiction over the reclamation of disturbed mine lands, and Kroshus said he is supportive of the state's self-bonding practice for the coal industry and proud of the work that the commission has done to encourage stewardship of the land.

Brian Kroshus
Brian Kroshus

"I don't see a need to change something that's not only working, but working at a very high level," he said.

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In the most high-profile moment of Kroshus' tenure so far, the PSC approved an expansion project for the Dakota Access Pipeline to nearly double its capacity. Kroshus said the decision has "stood the test of time" and added that he was glad to see the pipeline's expansion move forward over the last week.

"Transparency is really at the top of the list regardless of what we do," Kroshus said. "Just explaining to the public what the process is, how we made a particular decision, and being accessible at all times."

A former publisher of the Bismarck Tribune, Kroshus has served on the commission since his appointment by Gov. Doug Burgum in 2017. He was elected to keep the seat the following year.

Casey Buchmann
Casey Buchmann

Buchmann, an ironworker and ardent advocate for union rights, said he hopes to bring "an Art Link attitude" to the PSC, referencing the 1970s North Dakota governor and the patron saint of the state's conservation movement.

Buchmann criticizes what he calls the "Bismarck Bog" of the North Dakota government, which he said gives insiders from the coal and oil industries an outsized voice in regulation and policy. He points out that he would be the only member of the PSC elected into the position, not appointed, at the start of his term.

Emphasizing his blue-collar background and outsider standing, Buchmann argues that he would bring the voice of working people, rather than big energy, to the PSC.

When it comes to coal mine reclamation, Buchmann said he opposes the self-bonding practice, which environmental groups have argued leaves the state vulnerable to industry bankruptcies. And while Buchmann said he holds no truck with DAPL's expansion plans, but added that he doesn't think the project should be pushing forward in its current legal limbo.

In his campaign platform, Buchmann highlights affordable utilities, improvement of grain elevator safety, the expansion of rural broadband and tighter regulation of pipeline projects to prevent environmental damage as key priorities of his campaign.

"I bring a different point of view to the PSC, and I bring an independent point of view to the PSC," he said.

PSC commissioners are elected to six-year terms.

Readers can reach reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at awillis@forumcomm.com.