Enbridge Line 3 replacement project back on regulator’s schedule

Blue-hatted supporters of Enbridge Energy's proposed Line 3 crude oil pipeline line up for a Minnesota Public Utilities Commission hearing on the project on Monday, November 19, 2018, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The review and comment period for the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project begins next week.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency made public today the the draft 401 certification and wastewater permit, allowing additional time for the public to review the drafts before a 30-day comment period begins March 2.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission first approved the project, which would replace an aging oil pipeline that runs across northern Minnesota, in June 2018. But last year, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ordered that the project needed a revised environmental review to move ahead, saying the original regulatory approval didn’t adequately address the potential impact of a spill into the Lake Superior watershed.

Last month, the PUC met in St. Paul to take public comments on the revised study and on Feb. 5 set the PCA new schedule for permits. The January hearing drew testimony from supporters and opponents, including pro-pipeline State Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm.

He called the project the most-studied pipeline in Minnesota history, praising the PUC’s work, citing a 13,000-page environmental study that encompassed four years and 49 public hearings.

“I know it hasn’t been easy, but you’ve done a great job,” he said. “The old pipeline needs replacing. Replacing old infrastructure protects our water and natural resources. The construction alone will provide hundreds of good-paying jobs with the latest and most modern technology. It just makes good sense to do it. Not doing will not stop the flow of oil — it directs it to more unreliable forms of transport, mainly trucks and trains.”

In announcing a new permit schedule, the PCA said it would recognized and support “the unique status of Minnesota Tribal Nations, and to facilitate meaningful and timely engagement” and give Tribes “a minimum of two weeks to review draft water permits before the start of the comment period.”

During the comment period, the MPCA will hold two meetings where the public is invited to attend and learn more about the project, as well as give feedback on the draft documents that will be part of the official record. The public comment meetings are scheduled for March 17 in Bemidji at the Sanford Center and March 18 in Grand Rapids at the Timberlake Lodge.

The agency will release additional details on the meetings closer to the public comment period.

The new pipeline would replace one of the five Enbridge pipelines that carry oil across northern Minnesota. It has drawn strong opposition from environmental groups, tribal groups and some tribal governments and climate change activists.

Enbridge says the project is necessary — that the current Line 3 pipeline has been transporting oil across northern Minnesota from Alberta, Canada, since the 1960s and needs to be replaced. Labor and industry groups support the project for the construction jobs it would create. Local government officials tout the benefits of the tax revenue it would generate for the counties it crosses.

Support for the project has drawn along the same political lines as those divided by copper-nickel mining proposals in Minnesota — drawing strength from Republicans and Iron Range DFLers, with metro and Tribal-based opposition.

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, the state’s largest construction union with 14,000 heavy equipment operators that would be the group primarily responsible for replacing Line 3, recently endorsed Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber in his re-election bid for Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District.

Line 3 was a major reason behind that support.

“Pete has been a champion for projects that will provide good paying union construction jobs. Line 3 replacement, iron ore mining, logging, PolyMet, Twin Metals and transportation infrastructure funding are his priority and they are our priorities too,” said Jason George, the business manager for the Local 49, in a statement. “These are the jobs that we need in this state, and there has been no one that has fought harder to bring them to the 8th district than Congressman Stauber. Local 49 is proud to be a union that works to build relationships on both sides of the political aisle. Job creation and the support of Davis-Bacon prevailing wage and opposition to Right to Work policies are our priorities. Congressman Stauber supports us on these items and has taken the votes to prove it. We look forward to helping return him to office in November.”

But opponents argue that a new pipeline would enable more oil to be transported — and then burned — worsening the effects of climate change. They say they are concerned about the risk of oil spills in a part of Minnesota replete with lakes and rivers.

If the project is approved, Enbridge has said it hopes to begin construction later this year. The controversial project has already attracted several legal and other challenges, and more are expected.

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