Yesterday was the start of the end of the decision process in Minnesota regarding the Line 3 Replacement project.
All eyes have been on Minnesota and Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 Replacement Pipeline. Enbridge is asking for permission to build a pipeline through Northern Minnesota that would bring tar sands oil from Alberta to Superior. Currently, there is a Line 3 Pipeline that travels through the Leech Lake and Fond Du Lac Indian reservations. Enbridge wants to abandon that pipeline in the ground and build a new pipeline in a different corridor.
This new Line 3 would bring 760,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil into Superior every day. That extra oil being brought into Superior would have to go somewhere, and the only practical solution for Enbridge would be another pipeline through the heart of Wisconsin.
Though construction of the Canadian portion of the pipeline has begun, and the small Wisconsin portion has been completed, the process to permit the pipeline in Minnesota has been long and isn’t over yet. It has included over 1,000 pages of briefs, 17 intervenors, dozens of hearings and public input sessions, and tens of thousands of comments. Five Ojibwe bands in Minnesota also released their own Cultural Impact Assessment that reflects their concerns and the potential impacts. This case has had some unprecedented elements, including the inclusion of 13 youth climate intervenors and the Department of Commerce ruling that the pipeline is not needed.
WHERE WE ARE:
The Minnesota process began in 2014, and is nearing its end. We’re in the final stages. Yesterday, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) gave her recommendation based on all of the information that has been presented in the process.
There were two overarching questions in the docket: 1.) Should Enbridge be allowed to build the pipeline, which the process refers to as “need,” and if so, 2.) where should they be allowed to build it.
The Judge recommended that Enbridge should be allowed to build the pipeline, as long as they build it in the existing route.
There are a number of other notable pieces to the decision including:
- The Judge affirmed the rights of the Tribes to determine whether they allow the pipeline to travel through their land, stating, “Just like the Commission cannot bind the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] or require the BIA to grant easements for a route, the Commission does not have the authority to require either Leech Lake or Fond du Lac to permit the replacement of Existing Line 3”.
- The Judge recommended requiring clean-up insurance and securing a written commitment from Enbridge to be fully liable for catastrophic clean-up of the new Line 3, echoing the requirements that Dane County placed on Enbridge in 2015.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?:
All parties to the case will have an opportunity to respond and then the Public Utilities Commission will make its final decision. The Commission could:
-Confirm the ALJ’s recommendation to allow Enbridge to build the pipeline only in the current route. All eyes remain on Minnesota: what will Enbridge do? The Leech Lake Band has been explicit about the fact that they will not allow the pipeline to be rebuilt through their reservation. (The Leech Lake Band was one of 5 sovereign tribal nations that intervened in the process). Will Enbridge appeal? Will Enbridge propose a route around the reservation?
–Deny Enbridge the ability to build the pipeline: Enbridge will likely appeal, but for the moment, we would breathe a sigh of relief.
-Give Enbridge permission to build the pipeline, in any route: we need to remain as vigilant as ever. If Enbridge gets the green light, they will move even faster to try to push a pipeline through in Wisconsin.
SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Keep watching Minnesota. The decision is expected in late June, but could come out as early as late May. We’ll keep you updated with things as they arise. In the meantime, we need to continue to protect ourselves from another pipeline by working together, calling on our local and state governments to enact protections against unfair eminent domain for private gain and the dangers of the pipeline.