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Court: Potential Line 3 oil spill in Lake Superior watershed must be studied

A tanker truck passes by an Enbridge storage tank.
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ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday said an environmental review of Enbridge’s controversial Line 3 oil pipeline was “inadequate” because it did not consider the effects of an oil spill in Lake Superior’s watershed.

“Although we reject most of relators’ assertions of error, we agree that the (Final Environmental Impact Statement) is inadequate because it does not address the potential impact of an oil spill into the Lake Superior watershed. Accordingly, we reverse the commission’s adequacy determination and remand for further proceedings consistent with this decision,” Judge James Florey wrote in the majority opinion.

In appeals and during March oral arguments, environmental and tribal advocacy groups argued the environmental impact statement left out the potential impact to Lake Superior and tribal resources.

The court did not challenge the eight other points disputed in the Final Environmental Impact Statement appeal, including the pipeline’s impact on tribal resources.

Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner said the company was “disappointed with the court’s decision given that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) unanimously found the Line 3 Replacement Project’s 13,500 page FEIS adequate.”


The PUC, which voted to approve Line 3’s Certificate of Need and Route Permit last year, determined the Final Environmental Impact Statement was “adequate” in May 2018, backing the administrative law judge who also said the study was adequate in late 2017.

Winona LaDuke, co-founder of Honor the Earth, which filed the appeal along with Friends of the Headwaters, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, White Earth Band of Ojibwe and Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, said she was happy with the court’s decision on a Lake Superior study, but disappointed in the court’s decision not to challenge the study’s findings on tribal resources.

“We are elated that the decision on Lake Superior waters was made … However, by failing to uphold the requirement for a cultural survey of our Akiing, the land and waters in treaty territories, the Court and State have failed to recognize obligations to Anishinaabe people and the state,” LaDuke said in a statement Monday afternoon.

Once built, the new Line 3 pipeline would replace Enbridge's existing 50-year-old Line 3 and carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta to the Enbridge terminal in Superior.

The permitting process will likely finish in November and the company plans to have the pipeline completed in 2020.

Supporters of the new Line 3 pipeline say it’s safer at transporting oil than its aging predecessor.

Minnesotans for Line 3, a proponent of the project, said permitting for the project needs to remain on schedule.

“Today’s ruling should not stop any of the permit applications,” the group said. “It is important to keep this process moving forward to make sure we are able to replace aging energy infrastructure to protect jobs and the environment.”


In the dissenting opinion, Judge Francis Connolly wrote that he agreed.

“I also have concerns that our decision today will have the further unintended consequence of delaying the replacement of Line 3, which could pose a serious threat to our environment, including Lake Superior,” Connolly wrote. “Existing Line 3 has been in operation since the 1960s, has suffered a high amount of corrosion and long-seam cracking, and must be replaced under a consent decree between Enbridge and the Environmental Protection Agency and Coast Guard.”

Minnesota House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, agreed that it’s important that the repairs be allowed to take place.

"Replacing aging infrastructure is the right thing to do for Minnesota; it's good for our economy, it will grow jobs, and it will enhance environmental protection,” Daudt said in a statement. “This ruling should not change that, and should not stop this important project."

Also on Monday, demonstrators in Park Rapids locked themselves to construction equipment along the proposed Line 3 route in an effort to delay work there. Three were taken into custody and charged with trespassing at the site, Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes said in a statement.

Monday’s Court of Appeals opinion does not weigh the appeal filed by Gov. Tim Walz’s administration that claims the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission erred granting Enbridge a certificate of need because the company did not present a demand forecast.

Walz had refiled that appeal, which was filed by former Gov. Mark Dayton in the final days of his administration. He told the News Tribune Monday afternoon that his administration and general counsel would be reviewing the Court of Appeal’s opinion.

“This is totally separate from the certificate of need,” Walz said of the opinion.

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