ST. PAUL – Minnesota House Republicans have stepped up their push for pipelines to replace trains carrying North Dakota crude oil across the state, including trying to blame Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton for a pipeline setback.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Dayton interfered with state regulators' decisions about whether to approve a northern Minnesota pipeline when two of his agencies requested a change in how the regulators planned to make decisions. Regulators eventually accepted the change sought by the Dayton administration and environmentalists, a change that lead to a state Appeals Court ruling that may have delayed the pipeline.
Daudt and Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, used strong language to push pipelines days after a state Appeals Court ruling appeared to have delayed the Sandpiper pipeline that would take oil across northern North Dakota and Minnesota to Superior, Wis. Garofalo said the upsides of a pipeline like Sandpiper are construction jobs and safer oil transportation.
Environmentalists who filed the suit are hurting northern Minnesota communities, Daudt said in a St. Paul news conference. "They don't care that the unemployment rate in greater Minnesota is twice that here in the metro area."
However, the Friends of the Headwaters group, organized to protect water near the upper reaches of the Mississippi River, says it is concerned that the pipeline could go through fragile areas of northern Minnesota, although they say they do not oppose a pipeline.
"There is a big divide in Minnesota right now," Daudt said. "It really is between the environmentalists in Minneapolis and St. Paul and those in greater Minnesota who want to see progress on projects like this."
Dayton's Department of Natural Resources and Pollution Control Agency joined the friends group in urging state utility regulators to change the process used in other pipeline decisions. They asked that the process to show the pipeline is necessary be separated from determining the exact route of the pipeline. When the Public Utilities Commission made that change, the friends sued the state.
The Appeals Court overturned a commission vote declaring the pipeline necessary and ordered it to conduct an extensive environmental study before making any significant decisions on Sandpiper.
Sandpiper vote Oct. 1
When the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission meets Oct. 1, it will reconsider its summer decision that a crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota is needed.
The state Appeals Court on Monday overturned the PUC decision, saying state law requires a compressive environmental study before any significant decisions are made on a pipeline.
The PUC meeting agenda says commissioners will decide whether to reconsider approving a certificate of need. Technically, commissioners could stand behind their earlier vote that the pipeline is needed, but they likely would end up in front of judges again since there has been no environmental impact statement prepared.
The agenda makes the point that the PUC does not need to take comments or hold a hearing to take a vote.
Justice awaits vote
A Minnesota Supreme Court justice is waiting for the U.S. Senate to confirm her appointment to the federal bench.
The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the nomination of Justice Wilhelmina Wright. If the full Senate agrees, she will leave the state high court and serve as federal judge in Minnesota.
"Justice Wright is the total package: her breadth of experience, deep legal knowledge and strong character make her highly qualified for the position," U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said.
Dayton appointed Wright to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2012.
Dayton defends Guard
Dayton told a commission looking into Army funding that reducing National Guard funding will hurt its combat and state missions.
"The total Army will experience a considerable and irreversible loss of combat experience," he told the National Commission on the Future of the Army on behalf of his fellow governors.
"We understand the need to reorganize, restructure and modernize the military to meet new threats within present and future economic realities," Dayton said. "We also understand the imperative to support the most effective means to achieve these goals. The Army Guard provides 39 percent of the U.S. Army's capability for 13 percent of its total budget."
The message he heard back from commissioners, however, was to expect funding cuts.