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Lawmakers jump on report of pollution agency staffer's pipeline emails

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An environmental agency's emails about a long-gestating controversial pipeline project have led to more questions – and more political back-and-forth.

Earlier this week, the Pioneer Press reported Scott Lucas, a staffer at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, sent two emails that suggested he was clearly against the Sandpiper Pipeline proposal.

That's the $2.6 billion oil pipeline that would run across the width of Minnesota, carrying about 225,000 barrels of oil per day from North Dakota's Bakken region to Superior, Wisconsin. But the plan has been questioned for its possible environmental impact.

The staffer emails report was quickly jumped on by elected officials who support the project, most of them Republican.

During a legislative working group meeting Thursday, the Pioneer Press report was even held up by a lawmaker to argue a point:

Gov. Mark Dayton reacted to the emails Wednesday, saying it may have "really crossed the line" if someone in a Pollution Control Agency role was actively supporting an advocacy group, the Star Tribune reports.

Meanwhile, KDAL reports the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says it's investigating.

Dayton's political history with the pipeline has been a target for local GOP.

Republican Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt, this past September, accused Dayton of blocking progress on the pipeline by directing state agencies to turn up the pressure.

In response, the governor said he understands the need for the pipeline, but won't get in the way of the process, letting the Court of Appeals and Public Utilities Commission determine what happens.

What's the latest with the Sandpiper project?

(Get ready for some detailed licensing process talk coming up here.)

Well in September, a judge ruled that before utility authorities can issue what’s called a certificate of need – basically, it’s a go-ahead from the Public Utilities Commission that says a given project is one the state needs, and it can continue – an environmental review has to be done.

However, the Public Utilities Commission began going through the certificate of need steps in June, before an environmental review was done – which isn’t within the commission’s usual practices, the ruling says.

The environmental review process usually takes about a year, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission says.

Business groups such as the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce support the Sandpiper for its value as an economic development tool. It’s expected to create some 1,500 construction jobs.

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