Attorney General Swanson does disservice to Minnesota


On October l6, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn a recent MN Court of Appeals ruling, which revoked the Certificate of Need for the Sandpiper pipeline and required the Minnesota Public Utility Commission (PUC) to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement before proceeding with the permitting process. 

Last winter, Friends of the Headwaters and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy used the only option they had to interrupt a dysfunctional regulatory process:  an appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.  On September 14, in a unanimous 3-0 decision, ruled the Court found that the lack of an EIS constituted a violation of the Minnesota Environmental Protection Act (MEPA). 

The Sandpiper would establish a new energy corridor through the lake and wild rice country of Northern Minnesota, moving up to l.4 million barrels of oil a day across the state, with more pipelines expected to be added in the future. 

The Court of Appeals found that the PUC was making decisions without following state law. The PUC process is also flawed because it:

• Does not take into account the environmental justice impacts of building new pipelines; 

• Does not take into account the implications on treaty rights in the 1855 Treaty Area;

• Relies on a self-serving environmental document prepared by Enbridge and a half-baked review by the Department of Commerce that glosses over the risks of building a new pipeline corridor across our most pristine lakes and wild rice beds and the headwaters of the Mississippi River;

• Does not consider the full impacts of pipeline construction and likely oil spills on wild rice; and 

• Disregards tribal governments and Native peoples by refusing consultation and refusing to hold hearings within tribal communities.

Winona LaDuke, Executive Director of Honor the Earth, said, “The AG’s attack shows that she does not think that the state should prepare an Environmental Impact Statement when it determines the need for a pipeline.  Apparently, her position is that the state should not consider the climate change impacts of importing more of the most carbon intensive oil on the planet, from the Bakken in North Dakota and the Tar Sands of Canada, much less fully consider alternatives to this dirty fuel, such as more fuel-efficient vehicles or renewable energy. In fact, she’s defending an end run schemed up by past anti-environmental administrations. That’s disappointing. Throughout this and prior pipeline hearings, Honor the Earth and other citizen groups have raised many concerns about the fairness of the PUC process and its failure to implement procedural rules in accordance with law. Yet, the state attorneys in the hearing room have remained silent on basic principles of due process and fairness. This indicates that the AG is most concerned about serving powerful oil companies and keeping the permitting as simple as possible – even if that means running over due process rights. That’s not what we elected Swanson to do.”

While both the state’s and Enbridge’s legal and expert costs are passed on to consumers, Minnesota residents had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to attempt to have their land, water, and future generations protected from what most recognized is a shameful public process. Swanson’s attack is entirely in opposition to tribal governments and tribal communities, which will bear most of the burden of the oil pipeline proposals that pass through our best wild rice territory. That’s disrespectful.  

The State of Wisconsin has required an environmental impact statement prior to the approval of any permits for an l8 mile section of the same Enbridge pipelines, and the US Army Corps of Engineers is also considering whether it should prepare an environmental impact statement to protect tribal rights. Given the impact that oil pipelines have on Minnesota’s and the world’s environment, why would Minnesota’s Attorney General think that a full environmental review is not necessary? Why would Attorney General Lori Swanson, who stands up against predatory lenders and prides herself in protecting the common people, defend what many, both inside and outside government, know is a rogue process? Perhaps that’s because predatory lenders are easy targets, but oil companies are big donors.  The word is that Attorney General Lori Swanson has ambitions for a gubernatorial run. Oil and pipeline money may help her campaign for sure, but principles would help it more.

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