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Montana's 2020 election
Montana's 2020 election
The Montana Free Press guide
Republican for Public Service Commission
Zolnikov, of Billings, has served in the Montana Legislature since 2013. He was the chair of the House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee during the 2017 and 2019 sessions.
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On the issues

Issue statements were solicited from active candidates via a written questionnaire. Answers have been lightly edited for punctuation and spelling.

How would you assess the performance of the current Public Service Commission?

I would rate the current performance of the Public Service Commission as unsatisfactory. Commissioner Tony O'Donnell's inability to attend work in Helena for three months straight, while at the same time campaigning for the next election, is unacceptable. His absence from work occurred before the coronavirus pandemic. Another commissioner's inability to differentiate between private and work emails is simply an embarrassment. Even the Public Service Commission's legal team has prioritized hiding scandalous emails over maintaining integrity. The PSC has been named in numerous lawsuits and abused their heavy-handed, time consuming discovery overreach, making the EPA look like a dream. My opponent is clueless when it comes to the complicated energy issues and has not led on a single issue while on the PSC. He has attacked me for campaigning hard and raising money from hundreds of donors, yet he believes that donating ten thousand dollars to himself to buy the seat is the moral high ground.

Utility regulation is highly technical work that involves complex legal and engineering issues. What experience do you have that makes you confident you’ll be able to effectively parse detailed briefing materials and fairly evaluate competing arguments from business representatives and environmental advocates?

As a state legislator, I have been a member and served as the Chairman of the House Energy Committee. I have worked on energy policy and have rewritten dozens of Montana’s energy, utility and PSC laws to clarify long term energy planning. I enacted oversight on the utility’s 20-year long-term energy plan to ensure the methods, data and assumptions used are valid. I also reformed the competitive bidding process to ensure that all energy sources can compete to fulfill the needs and make sure consumers, like you, get the most affordable energy. As a state legislator, I have literally rewritten the playbook. The PSC can now look at the data to make well-informed decisions.

My background includes a certificate in energy policy planning, three business majors, a political science and finance minor and a master’s in business administration. I have a solid grasp of incentives, policy, economics, energy, mediation, volatility, the role of government and long-term and short-term planning.

In addition to energy companies, the PSC regulates telephone companies, garbage haulers and passenger motor carriers. There has been some discussion in recent years about adding hospital oversight to the commission’s responsibilities as well. Do you think the PSC has appropriate regulatory scope?

The scope of regulation over legacy telephone companies, garbage haulers and passenger motor carriers is minimal. PSC oversight of hospitals is currently not in the law so the PSC has no regulatory scope. The Legislature would have to grant this ability and greatly expand the size of the Public Service Commission. As complex as energy is, health care is much more complicated. First off, health care providers in Montana would have to be given geographically isolated monopolies with a captive customer base to even be remotely comparable to the entities mentioned above. Second, unlike a monthly energy bill based on energy usage (a single product), health care literally has thousands of moving pieces. From labs to surgeries, each visit is unique to the patient. Having an entity approve or deny costs, equipment, returns on investment and so on would be nearly impossible.

Do you think the current Public Service Commission has placed appropriate weight on climate change considerations?

This is not the legal role of the commission; the commission has no lawmaking authority. By considering these factors, they would be stepping outside of the boundaries of the law, end up in court and likely have their decisions overturned or changed. The commission's role is to ensure Montana's utility customers have affordable, reliable energy.

This is a politically charged question, but if the inclination is to change the role of the commission to encourage decisions based on climate change considerations, then the Legislature must change the law. The Legislature is where these decisions must be made.

Do you think the current Public Service Commission has placed appropriate weight on preserving the economic benefits of coal generating plants in Colstrip and Sidney?

Once again, this is not the legal role of the commission; the commission has no lawmaking authority. By considering economic benefits, they would be stepping outside of the boundaries of the law, end up in court and likely have their decisions overturned or changed. The commission's role is to ensure Montana's utility customers have affordable, reliable energy.

If my legislation had been enacted a few years earlier, MDU's integrated resource plan, or long term plan, could have been opened up to ensure that data and modeling used was accurate. We can not go back in time, but this oversight now exists for the PSC and will be properly utilized if I am elected to the PSC.


Campaign finance

No campaign finance data compiled for this race at this time.


Stay tuned for more

We'll be updating this page with new information through Election Day in November 2020.

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