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I’m not extreme, you’re extreme — the Aw Heck version.

When the Duluth News Tribune published an opinion piece from an out-of-state pipeline lobbyist last week calling me and my neighbors “extremists,” my Minnesota self thought “aw heck.” So I gave the editor a call and we agreed to have an exchange about it. It’s in today’s e-edition, and re-published below in full. What do you think?

In Response: Be wary who the newspaper labels an ‘expert’

Written By: JT Haines | Dec 3rd 2020 – 4pm.

JT Haines

A successful relationship between a local paper and the community is built on trust, and I have developed a level of respect for News Tribune reporters and editors over the years. At its best, our local paper transcends non-local ownership and provides an important public service.

I was disappointed, however, when the News Tribune published a piece from an out-of-state pipeline advocacy and lobbying group and identified the writer as an “energy expert.” To me, this label read as a sort-of endorsement of the writer’s opinions and raised some questions about when such an endorsement is applied. (Energy Expert’s View: “Anti-energy extremists litigating us into environmental catastrophe”, Nov. 24.)

The gist of the commentary was that energy production and consumption are a constant and the only variable is whether we move it by train or by pipeline. Indeed, the writer seemed so certain in his view that he called News Tribune readers who consider other variables in the discussion “extremists.” The protection of clean water and the issue of climate-changing emissions are, of course, among those variables; most Minnesotans do not view those as “extreme.”

So what qualifies someone as an energy “expert” on News Tribune Opinion pages? A review of this particular writer’s bio revealed a masters of public administration degree in management consulting and a full-time job in Ohio with an organization called the Consumer Energy Alliance. The organization does not reveal many details about its funders online, but its annual report indicates its members include Chevron, Exxon, and Shell, some of the same Big Oil interests currently being sued by the Minnesota attorney general for deceiving Minnesotans.

Meanwhile, we have plenty of experts right here in Minnesota. Even just at my own organization, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, we have numerous legal and policy experts, including energy analysts, State Bar Association energy section chairs, former state agency attorneys, and a former Minnesota Public Utilities commissioner, all with degrees from top institutions around the country.

In my view, we don’t really need someone coming from out of state to call Minnesotans extreme while ignoring important nuances in the local conversation. If space is to be provided to such interests, in the name of publishing a variety of opinions, I think it’s at minimum worth asking: When should writers be given an endorsement as an “expert?” And to whom should that apply?

I respectfully request the News Tribune please restate for readers its criteria for dubbing a submitter an “expert” and consider also giving express priority to Minnesota writers with equal or better levels of expertise and understanding of local conditions. In the meantime, I’d also invite my fellow readers to receive anything labeled “expert” with curiosity, which of course is a fine policy in general.

JT Haines of Duluth has a juris doctor degree from the University of Virginia and a masters in public policy degree from the University of Minnesota with a concentration on cost/benefit analysis in economics. He is an advocate for northern Minnesota with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (mncenter.org).