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A Summary of the Impact of the MN Appeals Court Ruling on the Challenge to Enbridge Energy's Line 3

State of Minnesota

Scott Hall and Heidi Holtan had a conversation today about the proposed line 3 pipeline from Enbridge Energy.

You can read MinnPost's coverage here

On June 3rd the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that the environmental impact statement for a crude oil pipeline Enbridge Energy wants to build across northern MN did not adequately address the potential impact of an oil spill in the Lake Superior watershed. The Lake Superior watershed is the eastern most part of a new route across six counties in northern MN. The new route for Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 pipeline would replace a 50 year old line that roughly follows highway 2 across northern MN. It’s 337 miles long, and goes west and south of the old line, running from Clearbrook in Clearwater County through Hubbard, Cass, Crow Wing, Aitkin and Carlton counties to refineries in Superior, Wisconsin and beyond. The appeal of the Public Utilities permit was brought before the MN Court of Appeals by the White Earth, Mille Lacs and Red Lake Bands as well as two environmental groups – Friends of the Headwaters and Honor the Earth. Scott Hall has been following the Line 3 pipeline story for us and joins us now to help us understand what is going on now and what has already happened. Q: So what does the MN Court of Appeals environmental impact statement ruling about the proposed Line 3 Enbridge pipeline project mean? A: It’s a very specific ruling ONLY dealing with the potential of oil spills in 1 part of the projected pipeline route – the Lake Superior Watershed. Q: And what does this mean for Enbridge when it comes to line 3? A: The Public Utilities Commission’s approval of the Line 3 route a year ago was a big win for Enbridge because the PUC is the lead state agency for permitting the project. But this is where it gets tricky: now that the Environmental Impact Statement has been ruled inadequate –the PUC will have to put on hold its approval since it’s based in part ON that environmental impact study. So right now the court sent the case back to the Public Utilities Commission to be reconsidered. Because the MN Department of Commerce is the state agency that actually conducted the environmental review it seems likely that the PUC will have the Department of Commerce REDO the part that the court rejected. Also – this environmental review impacts other state and federal permits that are still needed – so it needs to be addressed before anything goes forward. Q: So, let’s talk about the groups that brought their concerns about the Line 3 Enbridge pipeline project to the MN Court of Appeals – this includes the White earth, Mille Lacs and Red Lake bands and 2 environmental groups. They took issue not just with the impact of an oil spill in the Lake Superior watershed but also climate impacts and impacts on tribal cultural resources like water and wild rice. Was this a win for those that oppose the Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline project? A: Yes and no. MinnPost reporter Walker Orenstein probably said it best – “it’s a victory for Line 3 opponents…. But a narrow one”. From the opponents point of view the ruling by the MN Court of Appeals that said that the Environmental Review didn’t adequately address a potential oil spill on the Lake Superior watershed was good – but it didn’t go far enough. The court rejected the claims of climate impacts and tribal cultural resource impacts. They actually accepted almost ALL of the environmental review – except for the part of the pipeline that goes thru the Lake Superior watershed. The Lake Superior watershed is only the eastern most part of a new route across six counties in northern MN. Q: So how is Enbridge responding to the court’s ruling? A: Enbridge was of course, disappointed in the ruling. BUT, they are also encouraged that the Court of Appeals only found a small part of the Environmental Review inadequate – the part that dealt with the potential oil spill risk on the portion of Line 3 that runs thru the Lake Superior Watershed. Enbridge officials say that the court ruling is not a treat to the project but just another step to complete before construction. And, Enbridge could appeal to the Supreme Court. It sounds strange but BOTH parties could appeal. Q: Another question I have has to do with the opponents – what do you know about the bands that brought the appeal to the courts – White Earth, Mille Lacs and Red Lake bands. That isn’t ALL the bands that might be affected by the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline project. Are some bands (fon du lac or Leech Lake) in support of it? A: The basis of the challenge that the bands have in the route is as it goes thru treaty territory. Treaty territories where they still have hunting and gathering rights – though they don’t own it. Q: Okay, so where are we at now in the process of the proposed Line 3 pipeline project for Enbridge? A: My understanding is that the Public utilities commission through the MN Department of Commerce will presumably review the oil spill threat to the Lake Superior watershed – the part that the court said is still inadequate. It seems like redoing even a small part of the 13 thousand 5 hundred page Environmental review could take months. This could possibly cause more delays. Enbridge doesn’t think there will be much of a delay however. This indicates that the company doesn’t plan an appeal. It might be safe to say that Enbridge will continue plowing through the permitting process. To complicate matters even more – there are other lawsuits challenging Line 3 not related to environmental issues. One is by the MN department of commerce – the same agency that did the Environmental Review. That case is based on its findings last year that concluded Enbridge Line 3 is not needed. That conclusion was based on crude oil supply and demand analysis rather than environmental criteria. Q: Can you explain that a little more – about how much oil the new line would carry? A: The new line would carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day. Current line 3 carries about half that amount. From the Duluth News Tribune: On Friday, the department, which has long opposed the project, asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals to reconsider the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s decision to grant the project a certificate of need because “Enbridge did not introduce, and the Commission did not evaluate the accuracy of, a long-range demand forecast for the type of energy that would be supplied by the proposed facility,” the department said in its filing. It is intriguing: The MN Dept of Commerce joined the appeal AGAINST the Public Utilities permit. So you have the agency that conducted the environmental review OPPOSED to the agency that granted the permit. Q: And this isn’t all related to the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline project. In a related story, on the same day – June 3rd –The day the MN Appeals court ruling against the part of the Environmental Review having to do with potential oil spills in the Lake Superior Watershed section of the proposed pipeline – the Park Rapids Enterprise reported 20-30 people showed up at a site 15 miles north of Park Rapids where Great River Energy is clearing a right of way next to the Line 3 route. A: The protesters there hung anti-pipeline banners from the equipment and 3 of them chained themselves to logging equipment. Hubbard County deputies went to the site and cut the chains and bolts to free the individuals. A man and 2 women were taken into custody. Q: Can you tell us more about these protesters? A: They call themselves water protectors and they support tribal treaty rights in ceded territories where the new pipeline route crosses. They are supported by a group called Ginew Collective Against Line 3. They chose this site because it’s where preliminary work is being done for the Line 3 project. They also showed up at a pipeline staging site in Carlton County last winter. They argue that the MN Pollution Control Agency, the MN Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers have not issued the permits for Line 3 construction across wetlands or water crossings – and that NO construction related to building line 3 should be allowed before Enbridge gets necessary permits. That’s Scott Hall, he’s covering issues related to the Enbridge Line 3 Proposed Pipeline Project. Thanks Scott. Transportation, energy, jobs, water, land and treaty rights – they are important to many people in northern Minnesota and we’d like to know what you think. Email This is KAXE/KBXE – connecting you to the complex issues of northern Minnesota.

Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.