Our View: Review processes proving effective once again
Last week brought another reminder. Processes used for environmental and other reviews, in place to ensure that big corporations operate safely and in ways that don't harm the environment, can be effective. They can work. Just as they're intended to.
The focus this time was Enbridge's Line 3 Replacement Project, an oil pipeline upgrade being planned across the width of northern Minnesota. Last week the controversial project wasn't just rubber-stamped by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission the way so many of its critics and skeptics suspected it might be.
Instead, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission kicked it back for more work, for more refinement, to make sure its details comply with state and federal regulations, and to make sure the energy infrastructure improvement the project will provide will happen responsibly.
More specifically, commissioners, voting, 4-1, deemed "inadequate" the Environmental Impact Statement prepared for the project by the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Commissioners requested more information on the proposed pipeline route and how alternative routes could help avoid sensitive geological formations and could result in better environmental outcomes. Commissioners gave reviewers 60 days to respond.
Essentially, commissioners "tapped the brakes" on the Line 3 project, as the News Tribune put it in its coverage Friday — exactly what an environmental-review process can do and needs to do when necessary, when plans and proposals just aren't cutting it.
Last week's rejection was reminiscent of the moment in 2010 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruled that PolyMet's plans then to mine copper and other precious metals in northern Minnesota were "inadequate" and didn't go far enough to assure government officials the project would protect forests and wild waters. The planning document was sent back for improvements, for more work. A new plan, an "adequate" plan, took six more years of necessary work to produce.
Then, as now, the environmental-review process proved effective.
And this week, PolyMet submitted its long-anticipated financial-assurance estimate to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the information that's believed to be the last piece necessary for the state to issue a draft permit to mine.
Once all necessary permits are in hand, PolyMet will be able to begin construction and start mining, creating hundreds of promised good-paying jobs and sparking an economic impact for the Northland estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It'll be a positive result after more than a decade of environmental and other reviews: a long time invested to make sure all is well and adequate.
Such processes for mining, pipeline, and other projects, particularly those sensitive to the environment, are intentionally long, detailed, thorough, and exhaustively careful. They need to be. Both our economic future and environmental health are at stake.
So it's reassuring when, like in 2010 and again last week, we see that such processes are effective, that they can and that they do work — just as they're intended to.