Yesterday in St. Paul, the MN Public Utilities Commission (MNPUC) ruled the Line 3 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) inadequate. They ordered state agencies to further study a narrow set of new items and placed a new requirement for completion of cultural surveys before construction can begin. This action went against the recommendations of their own staff, and an exhaustive report compiled by the administrative law judge (ALJ) assigned to review the data. Staff and the ALJ recommended that the factual record indicated the FEIS was adequate.
This in our view is yet another example of an unreasonable decision by the MNPUC that gives the appearance of bias regarding pipeline permitting. Sadly, this was not a surprise. When pipeline protestors asked the MNPUC to bi-furcate the Sandpiper Pipeline routing and need permits, a process specifically laid out in state law, the Commission granted their request. They did so even though they were advised their actions were illegal. Months later a court ruled the MNPUC had acted illegally, and reversed their decision.
Time and again, the MNPUC has changed their own past practice and legal process to accommodate the wishes of anti-pipeline activists. This has resulted in delay after delay of critical decision points. All of these delays in our opinion directly led to the withdrawal of the Sandpiper pipeline project; costing our members thousands of jobs, and the people of northern Minnesota much needed economic boost and tax revenue.
It appears that the MNPUC is at it again with Line 3. Enough is enough. It is time to get serious about reforming a broken MNPUC. At a minimum, who sits on the commission should be looked at. Right now, there isn’t one person on the commission that actually lives in the areas where pipelines are located. None of the commissioners are from northern Minnesota. That doesn’t seem reasonable, greater Minnesota deserves representation on this commission.
In addition, something must be done to ensure that the MNPUC follows statutory time frames for permitting decisions. They have routinely ignored statutory timelines that require pipeline permits to be decided in months, and instead are taking years. This uncertainty is costing Minnesotans jobs. The Legislature should look to make these timeframes certain, the MNPUC has clearly shown they can no longer be counted on to stick to recommended timeframes or follow past practice.
We don’t make these comments lightly. We support a strong regulatory system, one that looks carefully at all the facts to ensure that projects meet tough environmental standards. The aim is not to provide a shortcut for companies. We don’t believe in shortcuts, that’s why we invest millions of dollars together with our contracting partners in training – our members build projects the right way, carefully. But we also believe in common sense, and in getting a job done on time. The MNPUC has not demonstrated common sense of late, and has shown no ability to get their work done on time at all in regards to pipeline permitting. It is time that the Legislature intervene to get them back on track.
Legislative and Special Projects Director
International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49