Environmental groups appeal Line 3 oil pipeline’s OK; state decides to follow suit

19August 2020

Several Minnesota environmental groups said Tuesday that they will appeal a decision by state utility regulators allowing the proposed Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project to proceed.

Their legal challenge centers on the state Public Utilities Commission’s approval in February of key permits for the project and was announced one day ahead of the state of Minnesota’s deadline to file an appeal of its own. The Department of Commerce met that deadline and announced late Tuesday that it would pursue an appeal as well.

Conservation and Indigenous groups have sued to stop the project before, saying that a new pipeline would pose a threat to the environmental health of northern Minnesota. Trade unions and local government officials in the region, on the other hand, support it because of its potential to create new jobs and bolster the economy.

Canadian energy company Enbridge, which owns and operates the pipeline, estimates that the $2.6 billion project will employ as many as 4,200 union workers and could provide approximately $100 million in employment and business opportunities for nearby tribal reservations. The company also maintains that the 52-year-old pipeline needs to be replaced lest it age into a poorer and less structurally sound condition.

Standing outside of the Minnesota Court of Appeals in St. Paul ahead of the Commerce Department announcement Tuesday, environmental advocates addressed those positions directly as they called for Minnesota to challenge the project. If the pipeline in its current state poses risks of its own, they posited, jobs might just as well be created by dismantling it.

“You don’t get to build dangerous infrastructure just because you already have it,” Sierra Club North Star Chapter organizer Natalie Cook said. “If Enbridge says its pipeline is dangerous, then they should shut it down.”

The PUC in February reapproved a certificate of need for the project and OK’d a permit establishing its route, decisions that environmental groups immediately vowed to challenge. Utility regulators that month also approved the project’s revised environmental review, the original version of which was ruled inadequate by the state appellate court in a separate lawsuit.

Permits allowing the pipeline to cross bodies of water in Minnesota are also the subject of litigation.

In May, the PUC denied a request from state and tribal agencies to reconsider its earlier decision before formally issuing the permits. The move cleared the way for an appeal to be filed in court, which state officials confirmed they would do late Tuesday.

Hoping to draw attention to the issue ahead of the announcement, demonstrators gathered outside the Governor’s Residence in St. Paul early Tuesday morning. Carrying signs bearing anti-Line 3 slogans, they chanted for Gov. Tim Walz to put a stop to the project.

“Tim Walz, duty calls,” they shouted.

Reached by email Tuesday afternoon, Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner called the groups’ decision to appeal the permits disappointing given the PUC’s “exhaustive review” and repeated approval of them.

“Enbridge believes the courts will reaffirm the (PUC’s process and decisions, which were made in accordance with the law based on full and complete evidence developed and presented over years of open and transparent regulatory and environmental review processes,” Kellner said.

But citing recent turbulence in the oil industry, activist Winona LaDuke said in an online broadcast Tuesday that a reevaluation of the need for the project would be timely. Honor the Earth, the group LaDuke helped to establish, is also co-plaintiff in the latest appeal of the Line 3 permits.

“The situation for Enbridge has worsened. The situation for fossil fuels has worsened. And now is the time for a just transition,” she said.

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