Yesterday, the Arkansas Delegation hit Plains & Eastern Clean Line where it counts — a line drive to the Secretary of the DOE with this letter:

AR Delegation_Moniz_Sept 14 2015

Maybe this letter should have been headed “FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT REQUEST.”  Plains & Eastern Clean Line applied under Section 1222 of the Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005.

For reference, here’s Section 1222 of Energy Policy Act 2005.

Many of the points raised were ones brought forward in testimony, public comments, and media reports of the Plains & Eastern Clean Line transmission line proposal.  Questions the AR delegation raised include basic project information and:

  • transactions and costs related to participation in Section 1222;
  • obvious failure to qualify because it is not in a “national interest electric transmission corridor” under Section 216(a) of the Federal Power Act;
  • improper use of Federal eminent domain authority undermining states’ rights;
  • that the project is outside the statutory mission of federal Power Marketing Administrations (Southwestern PMA is proposed by Plains & Eastern Clean Line as partner in its project);
  • project boundaries extend beyond the statutory boundaries of Southwestern Power Administration;
  • costs for this private project could be transferred to electric utilities and their customers and this possibility has not been walled off/mitigated to insulate Southwestern’s customers;
  • concerns about “non-completion” assessment of costs and prevention/mitigation have not been addressed;
  • Clean Line’s assertions that they will pay certain taxes to local communities have not been investigated and verified;
  • use of existing federal rights-of-way and federal land;
  • Clean Line’s substantially incorrect, misleading, and/or inconsistent statements, which are basis for rejection or denial of the application, have not been addressed;
  • draft EIS “did not meet the expectations of an inclusive, community-driven feedback process” expected of administrative agencies, and public comment periods and involvement of landowners and stakeholders was insufficient public engagement;
  • questions regarding tribal consultation; questions regarding DOE position on state’s role in siting under Section 1222;
  • impacts of traversing Mississippi Flyway on waterfowl and migratory birds, together with resultant economic and recreational impacts;
  • impacts on public recreation on outdoor recreation in Arkansas;
  • use of non-governmental email accounts for Department deliberations regarding this project.

Like WOW!  I’m impressed — this letter is a work of art.


DSC00141Putting MinnCan pipeline through the Nietes field

Today the Minnesota Court of Appeals finally determined that under the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act, a full Environmental Impact Statement, not the abbreviated “Environmental Report,” is required.  I’ve been before the Appellate Court, the Public Utilities Commission, the Administrative Law Judge, in Comments to the Dept. of Commerce, and at the Rulemaking Advisory Committee for Minn. R. ch. 7849 how many times on this?!?!? … sigh… OK, whatever…

Sent this to the PUC’s rulemaking staff because we’ve got to make sure the Certificate of Need rules are in line with this decision:


So back to today’s Appellate decision — I’m glad they’re finally acknowledging this problem.  Very, very glad to see this order to remand to the Public Utilities Commission for a full Environmental Impact Statement, as required by the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act.

Here is the decision:


Here’s the meat of it — it’s so simple — why did it take so long?

Here the MPUC deviated from its usual practice and chose to conduct the certificate of need proceedings prior to the routing permit proceedings. As a result, the MEPA-compliant environmental review associated with the routing permit would not occur until after a decision was made on the certificate of need. Neither party challenges the underlying decision to bifurcate the proceedings, but FOH argues that making a decision on the certificate of need in the absence of an EIS violates MEPA. The MPUC and NDPC contend that requiring an EIS at the certificate of need stage is inconsistent with the EQB’s longstanding determination that the alternative environmental review conducted as part of the routing permit proceedings satisfies MEPA. We agree with FOH, and see this as a simple question of statutory interpretation that requires us to examine the plain meaning of two MEPA provisions.

Relying on subdivision 2b, FOH contends that the issuance of a certificate of need constitutes a “final governmental decision” to grant a permit, and as such is prohibited until an EIS has been completed. We agree. For purposes of MEPA, the definition of permit includes a “certificate, or other entitlement for use or permission to act that may be granted or issued by a governmental unit.” Minn. R. 4410.0200, subp. 58 (2013) (emphasis added). This unambiguous definition encompasses a certificate of need. All parties also agree that once the MPUC decides to grant a certificate of need, its decision regarding the issuance of that specific permit is final. Therefore, based on the plain language of subdivision 2b, the MPUC’s issuance of a certificate of need constitutes a final governmental decision that is prohibited until the required environmental review is completed.

We are also not convinced that an EIS is not required before a certificate of need may be issued simply because the EQB has approved the environmental assessment associated with the routing permit process as an adequate alternative to a formal EIS. While the substance of this alternative review process may be equivalent to an EIS, its approval as an alternative by the EQB says nothing about when a final governmental decision to grant a permit may or may not be made in the absence of an EIS, which is specifically addressed by subdivisions 2a and 2b. Minn. Stat. § 116D.04, subds. 2a, 2b. We also note that the legislature could have clearly stated that a certificate of need for a large oil pipeline was excluded from the environmental review requirements of MEPA, but it declined to do so. See Minn. Stat. § 116D.04, subd. 2a(a) (authorizing EQB to establish categories of action for which an EIS is mandatory and identifying certain actions for which an environmental assessment worksheet or EIS shall not be required). As a result, in the absence of a statutory exclusion or an explicit statement by the EQB that the approved routing permit application process supplants the need for environmental review at the certificate of need stage, subdivisions 2a and 2b must control our determination of whether environmental review is required. The unambiguous language of those provisions mandates that in a situation such as this, when the MEPA-compliant environmental review would not occur until after a certificate of need was issued, an EIS must be completed as part of the certificate of need proceedings.

Finally, we point out that requiring an EIS during the initial certificate of need proceedings affirms the emphasis MEPA places on conducting environmental review early on in the decision-making process. Specifically, MEPA states that, “[t]o ensure its use in the decision-making process, the environmental impact statement shall be prepared as early as practical in the formulation of an action.” Id., subd. 2a. This emphasis on timing is also consistent with the way federal courts have applied the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which we may look to for guidance when interpreting MEPA. See Minn. Ctr. for Envtl. Advocacy v. Minn. Pollution Control Agency, 644 N.W.2d 457, 468 (Minn. 2002). The United States Supreme Court has explained that the early-stage environmental review similarly required by NEPA is critical because it “ensures that that important [environmental] effects will not be overlooked or underestimated only to be discovered after resources have been committed or the die otherwise cast.” Robertson v. Methow Valley Citizens Council, 490 U.S. 332, 349, 109 S. Ct. 1835, 1845 (1989)

In this case, the completion of an EIS at the certificate of need stage satisfies the imperative identified above by ensuring decision-makers are fully informed regarding the environmental consequences of the pipeline, before determining whether there is a need for it. Moreover, completion of an EIS at the initial certificate of need stage seems particularly critical here because once a need is determined, the focus will inevitably turn to where the pipeline should go, as opposed to whether it should be built at all. We acknowledge that the MPUC did order a high level environmental review to be considered during the certificate of need proceedings. But as the MPUC noted, this review was not meant to serve as a substitute for the more rigorous and detailed review needed to satisfy MEPA, and it cannot take the place of a formal EIS now. Accordingly, we conclude the MPUC erred by not completing an EIS at the certificate of need stage as MEPA requires.


Male Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) on a stump with a green background

Many thanks to the “little birdie” who brought this decades old report to my attention:

Rulemaking – Legislative Auditor-93-04-1

Yes, this is a report from the Minnesota Legislative Auditor from 1993, and if you read it, you’ll see little has changed is so many years…  The issues raised are issues we’ve been raising in the Public Utilities Commission rulemaking for Minn. R. Ch. 7849 and 7850 (Certificate of Need and Siting/Routing).  AAAAAAAAAAAACK!

For example, from the Summary:

One unintended consequence of negotiated rulemaking is that the public participation process mandated by the APA has become less important because the content of rules is largely decided during the negotiation phase. As a result, by the time a rule is formally published in the State Register with a request for public comments, an informal agreement between an agency and parties to the negotiation may already have been reached. Those groups and individuals not consulted often are left out. Nearly 70 percent of the affected parties who responded to our survey said they hear about rules too late for their input to make a difference. People who live outside the Twin Cities area were much more likely to feel unable to influence the rulemaking process and to express dissatisfaction with agency rulemaking performance generally.

For example, in the PUC Rulemaking for 7849 and 7850 (PUC Docket 12-1246), it’s been an over two-year-long process, and few are showing up anymore.  We weigh in, some things are taken into account in the drafts, and then that disappears from the next draft.  How can it feel like anything but a colossal waste of time?  Yet if we weren’t there, the utilities would get everything they want.  And as with the utility Certificate of Need and Siting/Routing processes, rulemaking has the same notice and public participation problems.  It’s all the same, deja vu all over again.


… and also from the report …

Furthermore, the rule negotiation process is not part of the official rulemaking record nor subject to statutory controls or legal review that would guarantee equal access. Therefore, it can easily be dominated by those groups and organizations with more resources. In the absence of formal guidelines or standards, agency practices vary, and some agencies are better than others at obtaining broad-based input.

We also conclude that:

Does this sound familiar?

Once more with feeling:  … the rule negotiation process is not part of the official rulemaking record nor subject to statutory controls or legal review that would guarantee equal access. Therefore, it can easily be dominated by those groups and organizations with more resources.


So what is the bottom line of this report?

Therefore, we recommend that:

The Legislature should consider amending the Administrative Procedure Act to require that a “notice of regulatory action” be published in the State Register and mailed to all affected parties when an agency begins drafting a rule.

We also recommend that:

The recommendations we make are designed to revitalize the formal rulemaking process, ensure more equitable access to agencies at a time when comments can reasonably be considered, and strengthen public accountability over agency rules. We think that replacing the current “notice to solicit outside opinion,” which is published for 62 percent of all rules, with a mandatory “notice of regulatory action” will not represent an undue burden on agencies. The current notice is not widely distributed and does not contain enough information to enable interested parties to respond. Therefore, we recommend that the new notice should contain more information about the rule and the process to be used in drafting it, and that it should receive wider distribution than the current notice. A mandatory rulemaking docket, to be submitted to the Legislature and made available to the public upon request, should help the Legislature monitor rulemaking and provide better oversight.

Also, we recommend the following additional changes to the Administrative Procedure Act:

… and …

In addition to changing the APA and other statutes that govern agency rulemaking, we recommend that:

For example, they should make a greater effort to educate the public about how to receive direct information about rulemaking actions and make greater use of agency-held public hearings or widely publicized public meetings early in the rulemaking process. They should also include circulation of rule drafts and “statements of need and reasonableness” earlier and more widely among all parties affected by rules. Finally, agencies should terminate the negotiation process when it fails to make progress toward resolving issues and either proceed more quickly to an official public hearing, employ the services of a professional negotiator or mediator, or return to the Legislature for guidance.

Adopting these recommendations should shorten the informal process, broaden public input in the early stages of rulemaking, and make rules more responsive to the Legislature.






LutherpostingNOTICE!!!  Landowners need notice if their land is affected!  Local governments and residents need notice if their communities are affected!  Yes, posting something can have an impact!

Notice is something that’s been an issue in utility dockets, and transmission proceedings particularly, for a long, long time.  It’s something we’re trying to address in the Minn. R. Ch. 7850 in our rulemaking advisory committee meetings over the last TWO PLUS YEARS!

Here are the latest Comments:

NoCapX_U-CAN_ Cover_8-25-2015


Why does notice matter?  Well, there’s this thing called “Due Process.”  Notice is a fundamental Constitutional Right.  It matters because “NOTICE” often doesn’t happen.  And it ties in with eminent domain, where land may Constitutionally be taken for public purpose projects with just compensation (and what is a “public” project?  What is “just” compensation?)  If you aren’t properly informed, have no notice, what does that do to your ability to participate?

In Minnesota, it’s a matter of law, clear, simply stated law:

The commission shall adopt broad spectrum citizen participation as a principal of operation. The form of public participation shall not be limited to public hearings and advisory task forces and shall be consistent with the commission’s rules and guidelines as provided for in section 216E.16.

Looking over posts and filings where this has happened, situations I’ve been aware of where landowners have been surprised at the last minute, too late to meaningfully participate in the proceedings, have filed Motions for Reconsideration, and have been to the Appellate Court on their behalf, it is SO frustrating.  Looking at the many times I’ve tried to intervene, to have intervention deadlines extended in case landowners want to stand up,   There’s no excuse.  People should not be surprised at the last minute with a utility attempt to run transmission over their land.

It happened recently in the Great Northern Transmission Line routing docket:

ALJ Order filed, no RRANT intervention

Can you believe Commerce EERA would file this?

Commerce EERA Responds… NOT!

It happened in CapX Brookings route and on CapX Hampton- La Crosse route:

  • Cannon Falls (CapX Hampton- LaX route) example to go around county park and DOT prohibited intersection area:

Cannon Falls Beacon – CapX in the news!

Dakota County resolution about CapX 2020


UPDATED Updated Minnesota Appeal Update

Initial Brief – St. Paul’s Lutheran School and Church and Cannon Falls Landowners

Reply Brief – Cannon Falls Landowners and St. Paul’s Lutheran School and Church

  • Oronoco(CapX Hampton – La X route) enters “new route” proposal without notice to its own landowners:

Oronoco Twp’s Exhibit 89

  • USDA’s Rural Utilites Service (CapX Hampton – La X) example:

RUS Reopens Comments on Hampton-LaCrosse

  • Myrick Route (CapX Brookings) example:

Myrick route withdrawn

Myrick Route & How to find things on PUC site

PUC chooses Belle Plaine crossing

  • This is important to understand the set-up, and now this notice was snuck in at the last minute due to Applicant and Commerce disregard for objections of DOT, DNR and USFWS.

That’s enough examples to get an idea of the problem… but there are more that I can trot out if necessary.  The notice provisions in Minnesota law and rule must be corrected.