In response to the Aug. 22 commentary by Jason George, Matthew Gordon and Joan Lee alleging that government red tape is strangling pipeline projects in Minnesota, let’s clear up several major misunderstandings. The authors of this article appear to be operating under the erroneous perception that Gov. Mark Dayton’s commitment to “streamline” regulatory permitting in Minnesota should have created some sort of “permit express lanes.” Express lanes that would hastily approve high-risk, low-return industrial development projects like the Sandpiper pipeline. They conclude that since their expected “express lane” didn’t immediately rubber-stamp this dubious project, Dayton is at fault and Minnesota’s process is somehow flawed.

In fact, the most significant cause of delay in the Sandpiper project review was a failed attempt by Enbridge to jam this project through a nonexistent loophole in Minnesota’s pipeline environmental-review process. From the beginning, citizens from the Mississippi Headwaters area of Minnesota (hardly a metro-centric group) who were most likely to be affected by this project have requested ordinary environmental project review through preparation of a “normal” environmental-impact statement (EIS).

The project was more than 13 months down this wrong track (an alternative kind of environmental review) when a ragtag group of citizens from northern Minnesota banded together to pull it back on the right track. And, no, the folks that are questioning this project are not “metro-centric” — they are your thoughtful and concerned neighbors. Citizens and land owners from East Grand Forks to Park Rapids and from Pine City to Cloquet who had serious questions about the project — questions that were not being answered by this alternative review. These citizens simply were unwilling to accept corporate platitudes, promises and shallow assurances. They wanted objective answers.

Raising funds by donations and bake sales to retain legal services, your neighbors simply asserted their rights as citizens of this great state. Your neighbors happen to believe that Minnesota’s “real roots” are in a democracy where the people still have an effective voice in major industrial development projects that can profoundly affect the quality of their lives. And Minnesota’s highest court agreed with its citizens, ordering Enbridge back to square one, ordering that there was to be no short-circuiting of the review process and finding that any delays in the review of Enbridge’s pipeline projects were self-inflicted.

Without benefit of objective environmental review promised by a full EIS, it is inappropriate bordering on irresponsible for the authors of the Aug. 22 commentary to draw any conclusions about the risks or benefits of this pipeline project. Many Minnesotans have serious doubts about the wisdom of tying their environmental and economic future to a fossil industry of a soon-to-be past era. With the governor as their forward-looking leader, they have demonstrated that they are eager to move into a clean-energy future, a future that creates enduring jobs and generates sustainable tax revenue. Crude-oil pipelines (and oil trains as well) are the technology of yesteryear, with myriad hazards in both the short- and long-terms. Certainly, it is risky to all of us to endure the fossil-fuel transportation infrastructure we have already built, which includes both pipe and rail. Let’s not be trapped into comparing the bad with the worse and making uninformed choices.

Wait for the EIS. If it’s well-written, it will illuminate the clear choices we have for our energy generation and transportation future. The EIS could have been done by now had Enbridge not attempted the end run it did.

Rather than strangling Minnesota’s economy, proper environmental review and permitting of large industrial projects is designed to strengthen and preserve the very resources we and future generations will need to sustain our high quality of life here. So, no, it is not “metro-centric” to ask these hard questions and demand better answers. It is deeply Minnesotan.

 

Willis Mattison, of Osage, Minn., is retired from a career teaching science and is a former regional director for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. He has more than 40 years of experience in writing and reviewing environmental-impact statements and was a first responder to numerous crude-oil pipeline leaks and spills in northern Minnesota while employed by the MPCA.