Minnesota Court Overturns Approval of Pipeline Project

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Monday that state regulators did not adequately consider the environmental impact of a potential oil spill on the Lake Superior watershed when they approved a plan to replace a rundown pipeline.  

A protester from the Line 3 Resistance Project hangs from a metal tripod set up to block traffic on a street outside a downtown St. Paul, Minn., building on June 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)

Remanding the case for further review, a majority of the appeals court’s three-judge panel found that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s decision last year to allow the replacement of Enbridge Energy’s aging Line 3 oil pipeline in the northern part of the state was not based on a complete environmental assessment.  

The pipeline currently runs from Alberta Canada, across North Dakota and Minnesota, to the Enbridge terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. Enbridge said it needs to be replaced because of corrosion and cracking, but it has also said that it would continue to use Line 3 even if its replacement proposal was rejected.

While the state appeals court’s ruling Monday rejected challenges to eight of nine disputed aspects of the environmental impact analysis, Judge James Florey wrote that the Public Utilities Commission did not properly address the potential impacts of an oil spill on Lake Superior.

Florey noted in the 39-page majority opinion that the final environmental impact statement, or FEIS, acknowledges the potential impacts of an oil spill at seven spill modeling sites, but none of those sites are in the Lake Superior watershed.

“The commission acted in a manner unsupported by substantial evidence and arbitrary and capricious when it determined the FEIS adequate despite its failure to address the issue—raised during scoping and in public comments on the DEIS—of how an oil spill from Enbridge’s Line 3 project would impact Lake Superior and its watershed,” the judge wrote. “Accordingly, we reverse the commission’s adequacy decision and remand for further proceedings consistent with this decision.”

Florey was joined in the majority by Chief Judge Edward Cleary.

Judge Francis Connolly dissented, saying state regulators did consider the effect of oil spills on the Lake Superior watershed.

“As the majority concedes, the modeling approach used in the FEIS considered the impact of a spill at all locations along the [proposed pipeline route] and alternatives, and the Lake Superior watershed is a location along the [route],” Connolly wrote.

Tribal organization Honor the Earth is one of the environment groups that challenged the Public Utilities Commission’s approval of the pipeline replacement project. One of its attorneys, Frank Bibeau, said in a statement that the majority’s ruling “is truly a water protector decision.”

“It was arbitrary for Enbridge and the PUC not to do an oil spill analysis for Lake Superior,” Bibeau said.

Enbridge could appeal the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court and said it is considering its next steps.

“We are disappointed with the court’s decision given that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission unanimously found the Line 3 replacement project’s 13,500 page FEIS adequate, based on the most extensive environmental study of a pipeline project in state history,” the company said in a statement.

The FEIS was a collaborative effort by Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Department of Natural Resources and the environmental branch of the Department of Commerce – one of the project’s biggest opponents.

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