The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency released the three draft permits for Enbridge's proposed Line 3 oil pipeline.
The draft permits — a wastewater permit, air quality permit and a 401 Water Quality Certification — are required before the company can start construction on the controversial 340-mile-long pipeline through northern Minnesota. The permits are awarded by a state’s regulators if the project’s impact on water falls within the state’s standards, and must then be considered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before a federal water permit is awarded.
Beginning March 2, the public can comment on the permits during a 30-day period. The MPCA will also hold public comment meetings at the Sanford Center in Bemidji on March 17, the Timberlake Lodge in Grand Rapids on March 1 and the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen on April 1.
Melissa Kuskie, MPCA's manager of environmental review and rules, told reporters at a news conference Thursday that while the permits are still drafts, the agency believes they meet state standards.
"We believe that the project, as proposed, would be able to comply with our water quality rules," Kuskie said. "That then sets up the premise of the public notice process — it's additional information that we maybe don't have yet."
Asked how public comments will shape the final permit and if the MPCA has ever modified past permits based on public comments, MPCA Assistant Commissioner Katrina Kessler said the agency was "asking for comments on all elements of the permit."
"As a result of those comments, we may modify any given part of the permit," Kessler said.
She noted the discussion around the protection of wetlands and wild rice has already shaped requirements in the draft permit. The draft says construction activities are prohibited in or 25 miles upstream during from April 1 to July 1, when wild rice is going through its early growth and germination stages.
In an email to the News Tribune, MPCA spokesperson Darin Broton pointed to several changes that the MPCA made to the permits for PolyMet, the planned copper-nickel mine in northern Minnesota, after the public comment period, including the use of a Minnesota-licensed engineer to inspect certain aspects of the project on a regular basis.
The MPCA said the Army Corps has given them an Aug. 15 deadline to make a decision on the 401 Water Quality Certification. At that point, it will then be sent to the Army Corps for final approval to ensure it meets Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner said the company did not have an updated construction timeline but celebrated the release of the draft permit.
"This is a significant milestone and a positive step forward for the Line 3 Replacement Project," Kellner said. "The MPCA’s issuance of the draft 401 Water Quality Certification demonstrates the Project can be constructed in a manner compliant with water quality standards."
The permit was delayed once already.
In September, the MPCA issued a “denial without prejudice” of the pipeline's 401 certification because it needed more information on the impacts of a potential oil spill within the Lake Superior watershed.
The denial came after the Minnesota Court of Appeals in June ruled the environmental impact statement of the proposed pipeline project was "inadequate" because it did not consider the effects of an oil spill in Lake Superior’s watershed. Other aspects of the plan had been disputed but the court ruled that they could stand. Earlier this month, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission accepted an updated environmental review as adequate, granted the project is certificate of need and approved the pipeline's route permit in three separate 3-1 votes.
Enbridge's proposed pipeline would carry 760,000 barrels of oil (31.92 million gallons) per day from Alberta, Canada, to the Enbridge terminal in Superior.