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Minnesota Senator Dave Tomassoni speaks about the importance to the region of the Twin Metals project during a rally in Duluth.

A pair of Iron Range Democrats are applying for an open seat on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

Earlier this week, state Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm and former state Rep. Carly Melin, of Hibbing, were recognized as two of 14 applicants vying to take the position once the state’s PUC chair Nancy Lange’s term ends on Jan. 7, 2019.

Others in the running to join the five-member commission include state Rep. Raymond Dehn, a democratic from Minneapolis, Leili Fatehi, a Sierra Club attorney, and Winona LaDuke, an executive director of Honor the Earth, a nonprofit focused on indigenous environmental issues. Gov.-elect Tim Walz has the authority to appoint a chosen applicant to hold the seat for a six-year term.

On Friday, Gov.-elect Walz and Lt. Gov-elect Peggy Flanagan, newly elected Democrats, announced that the state is taking applications for the PUC, along with positions on the Metropolitan Council and the Metropolitan Airports Commission through Jan. 9, 2019.

“Our state commissions play an incredibly important role in leading our state forward,” Flanagan said in the press release. “They help maintain the growth and studies we’ve made while also providing innovative solutions.”

Flanagan added: “We are looking for leaders who are ready to serve and dedicated to improving the lives of Minnesotans. As we continue the hiring process to fill positions of leadership within our state government, we are encouraging Minnesotans, regardless of race, religion, gender, and party or political ideology, to apply.”

The specific role of the state’s PUC involves regulating electricity, natural gas and telephone services. In so doing, the commission approves rates and services for large electric and natural gas companies, and grants certificates of need for energy facilities, including power plants and transmission lines, among other responsibilities.

A key issue for the PUC remains approving Alberta-based Enbridge Energy’s plans to replace the Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota. In November, the commission reaffirmed its support for the project and rejected a motion by opponents that its members reconsider their decision to grant a certificate of need for the project in June.

It was during the summer when Lange and her fellow commissioners in Democrats Dan Lipschultz and Katie Sieben, Republican John Tuma and energy consultant Matt Schuerger, reached an agreement that the multinational energy transmission company met financial assurances and requirements for insurance coverage against spills.

Opponents voiced concerns over Enbridge’s potential to damage the environment and contribute to climate change. Protestors disrupted a meeting a month earlier causing the commission to postpone its hearing.

The Mesabi Daily News was unsuccessful in contacting both Tomasonni and Melin for comment.

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