5th February 2020

Minnesota regulators give key approvals for Line 3 pipeline

Minnesota utility regulators approved a court-ordered revised environmental review for Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across the state.

On Feb. 3, Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission voted 3-1 to approve the environmental impact statement for the $2.6 billion project, saying the new review adequately addressed the impacts of a potential spill in the Lake Superior watershed.

Commissioner Matt Schuerger disagreed with the majority, saying the updated review “doesn’t adequately represent the consequences of a spill,” the Star Tribune reported.

But commissioner Valerie Means, who was not on the board in 2018 when the commission originally approved an environmental impact statement for the project, said she believes “there has been a sufficient evaluation.”

Means, Chairwoman Katie Sieben and commissioner John Tuma all voted to approve the revised environmental impact statement. They also agreed, on the same 3-1 vote, to reissue a certificate of need that the disputed project needs to proceed.

The new pipeline would replace Enbridge’s Line 3, which was built in the 1960s. Enbridge, based in Calgary, Alta., says the old line needs to be replaced because it is increasingly prone to corrosion and cracking and can run at only about half its original capacity. Environmental and tribal activists have urged regulators to kill the project.

The commission approved an environmental review in March 2018. But the Minnesota Court of Appeals sent the previous final version of the project’s environmental review back to the commission after finding that the massive document failed to adequately deal with the potential risks of an oil spill in the Lake Superior watershed. The state Department of Commerce then conducted additional modelling and concluded in the update that there was little chance of a spill reaching the lake.

During a public hearing on Jan. 31, environmental and tribal activists argued against the project, saying climate change has reached a crisis stage. But the project’s supporters, including union construction workers, testified it is time to let the project move forward.

Line 3 starts in Alberta and clips a corner of North Dakota before crossing northern Minnesota en route to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. Enbridge said in a filing ahead of Friday’s hearing that the record continues to show the project is needed.

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