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MARK DAYTON: Strained relations between Minnesota, North Dakota need high-level attention

Mark Dayton

ST. PAUL — The states of Minnesota and North Dakota are independent of each other in some ways and interdependent in others. Either way, our geography links us permanently side by side; so, it’s important that we live next to each other cooperatively and work together constructively.

In recent years, North Dakota’s surging oil production has brought that state more jobs, higher incomes and increased government revenues. Few of those benefits have reached Minnesota. Meanwhile, it has caused some very difficult and expensive problems for citizens and communities in our state.

Every day, an average of 23 million gallons of North Dakota’s oil are transported by rail through Minnesota to other markets. As a result, shipments of Minnesota farmers’ grains and other products have been seriously disrupted and are more costly. Rail deliveries of coal to Minnesota’s electrical utilities have been delayed and reduced. Transports of essential supplies to large industries, such as taconite plants and paper mills, and to small and medium-sized manufacturers are less reliable and more expensive, as are the shipments of their products to markets.

Furthermore, those logistical problems and their costs do not include the many interruptions and delays, which this increase in rail traffic is causing Minnesotans living and working along the lines. Nor does it include the additional costs it has imposed upon our local and state governments. And it does not address the greatly increased risks of harm to people and property from either minor accidents or major catastrophes.

Pipelines are another way to transport North Dakota oil through Minnesota. Most of it now flows through pipelines built and operated by the Enbridge Corp. The company has applied to build a new pipeline (“Sandpiper”) and to replace an older pipeline with a larger one.

Because of the expected increases in Bakken oil production, both of those pipelines, even when fully operational, would not reduce the number of future oil trains traveling through Minnesota, only lower the increase.

I predict that both pipelines will be permitted and routed through our state. Years ago, however, the Minnesota Legislature wisely decided that those decisions should be made by a panel of experts, who comprise our state’s Public Utilities Commission. The commission is presently reviewing Enbridge’s Sandpiper application. Shortly, it will begin to review the application for the proposed replacement pipeline.

Once again, Minnesota is being asked to bear the disruptions and accept the risks necessary to transport our western neighbor’s oil to our neighbors to the east. The proper response should be, “Thank you,” rather than, “Hurry up.”

Another conflict between our two states has developed from North Dakota’s insistence upon its right to build new coal-fired power plants, even though much of their production and pollution travel directly into Minnesota.

Eight years ago, in order to reduce our state’s reliance on fossil fuels, our Legislature passed a law that requires anyone building a new coal-fired power plant, either in Minnesota or serving Minnesota, to offset its emissions.

The state of North Dakota has filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn our state law. We will contest that case vigorously, as long as I am governor. It has severely altered my views about North Dakota’s respect for Minnesota’s right to protect the air our citizens breathe.

Similar problems have developed in the design and construction of a diversion of the Red River as it passes through Moorhead and Fargo. The proposed diversion and retention of such large volumes of water would have enormous effects on people and properties in Minnesota and North Dakota, both south and north of Fargo-Moorhead.

It should be obvious that a project of this size, scope and cost requires careful consultation and close cooperation between the responsible parties in both states. Unfortunately, that cooperation has often been absent.

This past summer, the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority, seven of whose nine members are North Dakotans, disregarded a Minnesota law that requires our state to complete an environmental impact statement before construction can begin.

The leaders of both states need to re-establish our formerly good working relationships. I accept my share of the responsibility for this lapse. If I am re-elected, I also will accept my share of the responsibility to rectify it.

Our two states and our citizens, businesses and communities have much to gain from good relations. We will not always agree, but we can to listen to each other’s concerns and cooperate as best possible.

Dayton is governor of Minnesota.