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Letter: PUC process is much friendlier to industry, not public

Petroleum and mining industries, along with the politicians who blindly support sacrificing anything and anybody at the altar of “jobs, jobs, jobs,” almost universally despise the transparency of environmental review.

Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) examine private, commercial or industrial projects under provisions of the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or Minnesota’s own Environmental Policy Act. In a nutshell, these laws provide for a very transparent process to answer the question: “What measure of human health, natural resource and/or quality of life is likely to be sacrificed by a proposed project?”

Projects examined in this process include things like a new public highway, a major bridge, a housing development, a factory, or a new mine like Polymet. But why no EIS for the Sandpiper crude oil pipeline?

First, let’s not deceive ourselves; be deceived by these corporations or by their lap-dog political hacks. All so-called “developments,” public or private, come at some cost to society directly or indirectly.

Environmental permits issued by government agencies don’t preserve the pristine quality of our environment, they are permits to pollute! Permits are written to limit the degree of pollution and then often fail to accomplish that when permits are violated.

The costs of a project are not just the dollars to construct it as measured in tax dollars or private investment. There are social costs manifested in increased incidence of some diseases or ailments, increased annoyances that disturb our peace and tranquility, more traffic congestion, noise, or other burdens on our public infrastructure.

Equally important are the costs to the quality and quantity of our natural resources and quality of our air, water and soil.

There simply are no free economic benefits or profits from these projects. Someone and something always pays a price. How high a price? Ah, mining and petroleum companies would rather we did not know the full price to be paid.

They work tirelessly to stifle the environmental review process and buy political help to get exemptions from it or alternatives to it.

The U.S. House of Representatives just passed a bill sponsored by the former president of the National Mining Association that would dramatically roll back existing environmental review laws for mining projects.

Mining companies are horrified by the public’s discovery of the truths about sulfide mining disclosed in the Polymet EIS. Here in Minnesota petroleum companies have successfully weakened Minnesota’s laws for pipelines by being granted an “alternative review” process.

This alternative process administered by rules of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) rather than the Environmental Quality Board is much friendlier to industry but is more opaque and foreboding to the public. Thus, we will not see a full environmental impact statement for the Sandpiper Pipeline like we have seen for Polymet.

Citizens concerned about the Sandpiper pipeline will have to work much harder and smarter to get full access to the same level of environmental impact information than the folks involved in the Polymet mine. There is something inherently disturbing and wrong about that. Citizens living near the Sandpiper route are no less deserving of environmental justice than our friends concerned about Polymet’s sulfide mining.

Willis Mattison,

Retired Regional Director for the Minnesota

Pollution Control Agency