Minnesota Officials Advance Contentious Pipeline Project

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – Enbridge Energy’s proposal to replace its rundown Line 3 oil pipeline was approved by Minnesota regulators on Thursday, upsetting opponents of the project who say the decision will be seen as a sign of disrespect to area tribes.

St. Paul Police Commander Josh Lego talks on his cell phone about removing a pipeline opponent blocking 7th Place outside of Public Utilites Commission hearings about the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline in St. Paul, Minn. on Thursday, June 28, 2018. (Evan Frost/Minnesota Public Radio via AP)

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted 5-0 to approve the replacement of Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline in the northern part of the state.

Later Thursday afternoon, members of the commission settled the question of the pipeline’s specific route, voting 3-2 to approve Enbridge’s preferred route that will avoid two Indian reservations it currently crosses.

Several commissioners reportedly said the decision was a difficult one.

Chairwoman Nancy Lange broke down at the hearing and wiped her eyes, describing how conflicted she was about the project. And Katie Sieben, a former Democratic state senator, said it was “so tough because there is no good outcome,” according to an Associated Press report.

The pipeline currently runs from Alberta, Canada through North Dakota and Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin.

According to Enbridge, the aging oil pipeline 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.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce, one of the project’s opponents, argue that Minnesota’s refineries do not need the extra oil because the demand for oil and petroleum will decrease in coming years as more renewable energy products come widely available.

In about three weeks, the Public Utilities Commission’s decision will be formalized and opponents will have the opportunity to file motions to reconsider the decision. After that, they can take their fight to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

One of those opponents, tribal-led environmental group Honor the Earth, is likely to pursue that appeal.

The group said in a statement that approval of the pipeline project “will be seen by the tribes as a clear decision of disrespect – from their 50+ years of experiencing spills along the current corridor, to the proposed alternative running through their pristine wild rice beds and treaty resource rich lands—a tremendous source of food, nutrition and economy.”

Honor the Earth also said the commission’s decision has set the stage for a battle in Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker included in a budget bill the right for foreign corporations to use public resources and eminent domain to seize land.

“It also sets the stage for additional litigation, confrontations, cost factors, law enforcement and an atmosphere of mistrust over what is important to the future generations of our citizens-corporate profits or an environment that can sustain life and guarantee clean water,” The group said in a statement.

It continued, “Who speaks for the earth? Who speaks for the animals? Who speaks for the living voice of the water? It is a tremendous statement by the Minnesota [Public Utilities Commission], one that mirrors many others in the past that sidestepped the First Peoples, disrespected their sources of food and homes.”

Enbridge President and CEO Al Monaco, meanwhile, said in a statement that the company is “very pleased” with the commission’s decision.

“Replacing Line 3 is first and foremost about the safety and integrity of this critical energy infrastructure. This project will also help ensure Minnesota and area refineries reliably receive the crude oil supply they need for the benefit of all Minnesotans and the surrounding region,” he said.

Monaco added that the modified pipeline route “best protects the environment and has overwhelming support of communities.”

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