Two northern Minnesota Indigenous tribes have asked the state's Court of Appeals to stay, or pause, key permits for Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline project currently under construction across the state.
In a motion filed Tuesday, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians and White Earth Band of Ojibwe argued the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission's refusal to stay the permits earlier in December was "an abuse of discretion" and asked the court to review that decision and grant its motion to stay the project's certificate of need and route permit.
The Court of Appeals is currently considering several cases challenging the project. Opponents of the pipeline have said the permits should be on hold until the court cases are resolved and the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
The ongoing cases consider whether the correct calculation was used to determine the pipeline was actually needed and whether the environmental impact statement correctly considered environmental effects on the St. Louis River and Lake Superior.
Without a stay, the tribes argue, the construction on the project will be finished before those courts can make a decision.
Construction started at the beginning of December on the 340-mile long pipeline across northern Minnesota and will take about six to nine months to finish.
"The Tribes anticipate that this court would issue a final order in approximately July, at which time construction will likely be complete or nearly complete, such that in the event of reversal Tribes would not obtain the relief they seek," attorneys for the tribes wrote.
The tribes say without a stay, construction of Line 3 "would irreparably injure" their treaty-protected interest in the environment, cultural and religious rights on the land and "right under state law to require Commission compliance with law before approval of permits and construction of permitted projects."
Once complete, the $2.6 billion project will replace the aging Line 3 across Minnesota with a new pipeline that follows a new route through much of the state as it ferries 760,000 barrels of oil (31.92 million gallons) per day from Alberta, Canada, to Enbridge's terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. Segments in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin are already complete.
In a statement, Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner said: "There is no legitimate basis for this filing, which fails to recognize the exhaustive and meticulous review of the Line 3 Replacement Project by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, and only seeks to delay an essential maintenance and safety replacement project."
There are several other legal challenges facing the project filed by environmental groups and tribes, including a lawsuit against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's November approval of the pipeline's 401 certification — a permit awarded by a state's regulators if the project's impact on water falls within the state's standard — and a federal lawsuit arguing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' approval of a water quality permit in November did not consider several environmental impacts.