ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is drawing fire over e-mails a staffer reportedly sent to environmental groups opposed to the Sandpiper crude oil pipeline in northern Minnesota.
Republican lawmakers say it appears that the MPCA staffer in Brainerd is siding with opponents, and they question whether the agency as a whole is deliberately thwarting efforts by Enbridge Energy to build a new pipeline.
"This is supposed to go through a real impartial process," House Speaker Kurt Daudt, a Republican from Crown, told reporters. "And while Governor Dayton says he supports Sandpiper, his actions tell another story, and the actions of his administration tell another story."
The email messages reportedly sent by watershed specialist Scott Lucas came light in an article by the St. Paul Pioneer Press Jan. 6. In that newspaper story, Lucas is quoted as citing a study in an email to opponents, telling them it could help them make a case against the pipeline's proposed route across wetlands in that part of the state.
"I'm calling on the governor to fix this," Rep. Daudt declared. "If somebody needs to be removed from that department due to inappropriate behavior, take that action. Let's keep the Sandpiper approval on its current track."
The MPCA is conducting its own investigation of whether the emails compromise the agency's impartiality on the project. The Legislative Auditor says his staff will also look into the controversy, at the request of lawmakers.
Gov. Dayton said that Lucas does not speak for him or the Dayton Administration. He says he remains committed to the project, and neither he nor Pollution Control Commissioner John Linc Stine were aware of Lucas's purported emails until the Pioneer Press story. Dayton says he takes the agency's impartiality on environmental reviews very seriously.
"People are allowed to have their opinions and disagree with me," Dayton explained. "But if somebody is in that position is playing an advocacy role, with an advocate organization, that has really crossed the line of what their professional responsibilities are."
He said that Lucas remains on the job pending the outcome of the investigation, in accordance with due process rights provided by state law and the MAPE professional employees union contract.
The MPCA said that Lucas is one of a group of six to ten employees in that part of the state taking part in the review of the project, but is not considered a "key decision maker" for the agency.
According to the MPCA central office, Lucas spends about 10 percent of his time on the Sandpiper project. The remainder of his job concerns other watershed issues.