Army Corps of Engineers Issues Permits for Pipeline Construction in Minnesota

Opponents of Enbridge Energy’s proposal to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota demonstrate on Jan. 31, 2020/ (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — The Army Corps of Engineers Monday issued three permits to Canadian energy company Enbridge for the construction of its controversial Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota. 

The permits are the last federal hurdles to the construction of the pipeline. 

In a short statement issued by the Corps’ St. Paul office Monday evening, it announced that it had issued a collection of permits to Enbridge Inc. after finding that the planned pipeline complied with all federal laws and regulations.

“This decision is based on balancing development with protecting the environment,” Col. Karl Jansen, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Paul District said in the statement. “Our decision follows an exhaustive review of the application and the potential impacts associated with the construction of the pipeline within federally protected waters.”

He added that the Corps had worked with government partners, Native American tribes, environmental organizations and with Enbridge itself on the permitting process. “I believe our decision is based on sound science and strikes the balance between protecting natural resources and allowing reasonable development,” he said.

The $2.9 billion project would replace an existing pipeline completed in 1968 between Edmonton, Alberta, and Superior, Wisconsin, with a larger one rerouted to avoid one of the two Native American reservations in its path. Controversy has followed the proposal since it was first pitched in 2014, and Minnesota is the last holdout of the three states the finished line would pass through. Construction has already been completed in Wisconsin and North Dakota, each of which is home to less than 15 miles of the 1,097-mile pipeline. 

Along the 337 miles planned for Minnesota, opponents say, the line would still run through treaty-ceded lands and vulnerable waterways, endangering hunting and fishing territories guaranteed to northern Minnesota’s Ojibwe/Anishinaabe bands. Also at issue, detractors say, is climate change. 

“Today’s decision is a gift by Trump to the oil industry and a slap in the face to the rest of us,” said Andy Pearson, who coordinates Minneapolis-based climate activist group MN350’s pipeline activism. “This decision ignores what scientists have told us about the impact of this project, including the climate change damage of 50 coal plants. This decision ignores treaty rights of the Anishinaabe people. President Trump has rushed this approval forward without thorough review in his last months in office, trying to lock in dirty infrastructure in MN for decades to come.”

The project still needs one last pass-through of state regulators. A stormwater drainage permit is still pending in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, as is a final construction authorization from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Neither is expected to present a major obstacle to Enbridge.

“We’re pleased about the steps Army Corps have taken today to move this important project forward,” Robin Rorick, vice president of midstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement. “As has now been confirmed by the Army Corps, Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources, Enbridge’s approach to replacing Line 3 will be conducted in a manner that ensures minimal impacts to the environment and safe operations for years to come.” 

Enbridge, meanwhile, touted a promised 4,200 local construction jobs and millions in local spending that it expects will come along with the project. 

The regulators’ decisions have been a point of controversy in Minnesota. Last week, 12 of the 17 members of the Pollution Control Agency’s Environmental Justice Advisory Group resigned in protest of the PCA’s decision to grant crucial water-quality permits to the pipeline despite the group’s objections. 

“We cannot continue to legitimize and provide cover for the MPCA’s war on black and brown people,” the group wrote in a letter announcing their resignation. “Line 3 will mean violated treaty rights, heightened risk of sexual trafficking and sexual violence, and an insult to the three tribal nations that strongly oppose its construction. Any perceived economic benefits are extremely short-term.”

The group included Ojibwe/Anishinaabe and environmental activist Winona LaDuke, whose organization Honor the Earth has been involved in pipeline protests including the 2016 Standing Rock Sioux Reservation protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

“It’s tragic but it’s not a surprise that the Trump administration would approve these permits regardless of the water quality impacts from the pipeline, and during a time when a pandemic is sweeping across the North Country with workers already here,” LaDuke told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Monday. “The tribes and others will surely sue and we will see them in court.”

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