Take the Public out of PUC

The Public is a bit unruly sometimes. But it was an abrupt move, by Minnesota Public Utilities Chairwoman to deny any testimony to a packed hearing room in the Enbridge pipeline expansion case. I was , well, shocked.

Chairwoman Beverly Jones Heydinger took a deep interest in the growth projections of the Great River Energy power company, asking, along with her fellow PUC board members, thoughtful and in depth questions. Yet, when the most contentious hearing part came, the room was packed, with, albeit a bit more robust public than many would expect, there were no questions. There was no testimony, and a decision was made unanimously within three minutes. “ Off with their heads”… was sorta the tenor.

It was a bit questionable, frankly.

The Enbridge expansion from 440,000 barrels per day to a 570 ,000 and perhaps up to 800,000 barrels per day capacity in the Alberta Clipper / Line 67 pipeline should not go unchecked, particularly if environmental reviews have not been completed, and in light of the recent decision by the British Columbian government to not approve a similar pipeline.

British Columbia Environment Minister Terry Lake referred to "… substantive questions about the project, including its route, spill response capacity and financial structure to handle any incidents…." Lake concluded…“Our government does not believe that a certificate should be granted before these important questions are answered." So, in short, Enbridge really, really needs to expand this pipeline.

A recap of recent pipeline spills: On April 24, there was an oil spill in Viking, Minnesota; 600 gallons of oil was spilled from the Enbridge Clipper Line 67. In late March, the Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas, gushed 800,000 gallons of oil into a suburb. Clean up is not complete, and a set of “absorbent pads” essentially paper towels was at the center of the clean up strategy.

The problem is that both Pegasus and the Alberta Clipper transport tar sands oil- diluted bitumen. Tar sands oil is 15-20 times more acidic than conventional oil and up to 7 times as viscous (thicker). Tar sands oil is 16 times more likely to breach a pipeline than regular crude oil; yet Enbridge is determined to expand their capacity and their chances of risking more oil spills. Now consider our ecosystem: Wetlands are like sponges, they soak up everything.

The PUC notes Enbridge’s report that “ there are many myths surrounding diluted bitumen including its corrosivity, safety records, pipeline pressure and temperature, “ yet these “myth busting facts” were never cited. While the commissioner called on the representative from the state pipeline authorities, the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) is in charge of safety. They cover 2.5 million miles of present pipelines, with a scant ll0 inspectors . Just one more time: Enbridge is responsible for 804 pipeline spills since 1999 (Polaris Institute, including the Kalamazoo spill, where 800,000 barrels of oil gushed for l7 days. Kalamazoo cleanup- $800 million thus far, and it’s not done. Total spills value: 6.8 million gallons of oil. The economic calculations of loss, of externalities, and of opportunity forgone cost for infrastructure investments in fossil fuels of this extreme nature . While the statutory authority of the PUC required the PUC consider “ benefits of this facility… to increase reliability of energy supply to Minnesota and the region…”, it was ironic, that previous discussions at the PUC that day were extensive, and this discussion and any alternatives were shut down.

It was a really strange hearing, even for those of us accustomed to pubic processes. Head Commissioner Beverly Jones Heydinger was clearly not comfortable with this public. She behaved awkwardly and the hearing was really a shortfall of public process. It made me feel ashamed.

But maybe there are a few others who could be ashamed. Like, perhaps the Alberta Member of Legislative Assembly for Ft. McMurray- the pipeline district.. MLA Mike Allen was in town, perhaps to court the Public Utilities Commission, since it was a pretty important hearing to Enbridge. He didn’t make it to the hearing unfortunately as earlier in the week the MLA was arrested by police in St. Paul, Minn. They say he negotiated for “sexual favours” with two female undercover officers. He went home to Canada and missed attending the PUC hearing. But things went well for Enbridge anyway.

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