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OUR OPINION: Why Sandpiper Pipeline opponents lost big`

By Tom Dennie / Grand Forks Herald

It's a case of dueling press releases. But it deserves a minute of Minnesotans' time—especially those Minnesotans who oppose the Sandpiper Pipeline and can't understand why their fellow residents keep rejecting their arguments.

For those opponents, gaining this understanding is crucial. For indisputable evidence now has surfaced that the pipeline's backers are carrying the day—evidence in the form of Friday's unanimous vote in favor of the pipeline by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

How can that be? How is it that even in famously liberal and environmentally sensitive Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the commission—four of whose five members were appointed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton—could vote 5-0 in favor of a controversial crude-oil pipeline?

Here's how:

Almost to a person, the opponents talk as if they're wearing green blinders—blinders that stop them from seeing any other interests besides their own.

And given that they equate their own interest with saving the Earth, it's no wonder they blast everyone else's position as not only selfish and but also environmentally irresponsible.

The trouble is, proponents of such views generally have little interest in reaching a compromise. But in America, of course, politics is the art of compromise. That means people who refuse to compromise get labeled as extremists.

And extremists tend to fare poorly in America's system of governance.

Take these press releases, which were issued in the wake of Friday's decision by the PUC. First up: This one from Richard Smith, president of Friends of the Headwaters:

"We are acutely disappointed in the PUC's decision. Despite stating that this pipeline would provide no direct benefits to Minnesotans, the commissioners put the needs and profits of a private, foreign conglomerate ahead of Minnesota's pristine, historical, and economically valuable Mississippi Headwaters and northern lake country."

Now this one, from the Laborers International Union of America:

"Members of the Laborers International Union of America announced their approval of the decision. ... (The pipeline) could create an estimated 3,000 high-paying jobs while helping to keep fuel prices down and lessening the economic, environmental, and public safety risks of shipping oil through the state by rail. ...

"'I am looking forward to getting to work on Sandpiper,' said LIUNA Local 563 member Matt Duncombe, a pipeliner who lives in East Grand Forks not far from the proposed pipeline route. 'This project means hundreds of new work opportunities in the pipeline industry for Minnesotans and North Dakotans. And for me, it's a chance to work close to my home and see my wife and kids more often.'"

So, contrary to Smith's declaration, the pipeline will provide "direct benefits" not just to "a private, foreign conglomerate," but also to Minnesotans—Minnesotans such as Duncombe and thousands more like him.

Minnesotans far and wide also will benefit by seeing fewer oil trains roll through their cities and towns. Even Americans by the millions will benefit from our nation's decreasing dependence on foreign oil.

In short, the pipeline will deliver real and substantial gains while subjecting the landscape to what amount to manageable risks. Now, if pipeline foes truly want to protect Minnesota's waters by requiring Enbridge to build the safest possible pipeline, they should start by talking in those realistic, cost/benefit terms.

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