June 28, 2018 10:20 PM
Minnesota regulators Thursday approved a certificate of need for Enbridge Energy's proposal to replace its aging Line 3 oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.
The Public Utilities Commission voted 5-0 to approve the certificate with conditions. The decision came after all five members appeared to support the project during a public meeting ahead of the vote.
A vote approving a route statement followed later in the day.
The approved route would mostly avoid two American Indian reservations whose tribes strongly oppose the project, with a short crossing at one stretch of the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa's land to connect to existing pipeline.
Commissioners said if the Fond du Lac don't agree, they'll shift the route. The commission vote was just 3-2, compared to the unanimous vote to approve the certificate of need.
In a statement, Al Monaco, the president and CEO of Enbridge Inc., praised the results of the vote.
"We are very pleased that the PUC has determined the Line 3 Replacement Project is needed for Minnesota," the statement read. "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.
"The PUC's decision to approve our preferred route with modifications is a good outcome for Minnesota and the result of listening carefully to stakeholders and an effective consultation process. We believe our route best protects the environment and has overwhelming support of communities.
"We want to thank the thousands of Minnesotans, including unions, farmers, small business owners, civic leaders and all others for their hard work in support of this critical project. We would also like to thank the PUC for their very thorough and well considered decision as well as all the state agencies and others involved in this process."
But in a statement of his own Thursday afternoon, Gov. Mark Dayton said the vote does not represent final approval of the pipeline.
"Many people hold passionate views on this project," a statement read. "I urge everyone to express themselves peacefully. The PUC's decision is not the final approval of this pipeline. Rather, it only allows Enbridge to begin to apply for at least 29 required federal, state, and local permits.
"Those regulatory reviews, which address numerous issues not considered by the PUC, will take several months. Approvals are by no means assured, and they would require any such project to meet Minnesota's highest standards, protecting all our state's earth, air, water, natural resources, and cultural heritage. I assure that state agencies will fully uphold those high standards, as they review these applications. Construction cannot and will not begin, unless Enbridge receives all required permit approvals."
The current pipeline crosses two American Indian reservations whose tribes strongly oppose the project.
Minnesota Public Utilities Commission just unanimously approved a certificate of need for Enbridge Energy’s #Line3, with conditions. Still need to vote on a route permit but CN is a crushing blow to protesters who’ve attended hearings here for weeks.— Josh Rosenthal (@JRosenthalKSTP) June 28, 2018
Line 3 was built in the 1960s. Enbridge says it needs to replace the pipeline because it's increasingly subject to corrosion and cracking.
Supporters of the project said a major benefit is the impact it could have on state's economy.
"It's a great job creator, good jobs, they pay well," supporter Bob Schoneberger said. "There's a lot of things that get bolted onto a project like this that people get to benefit from. It really benefits everyone in different ways, but it still benefits everybody in this region."
Protesters, though, expressed anger, disappointment and sadness.
"To see this continual oppression through this entire process, yeah, it's definitely not surprising, but it really hurts," said Nina Berglund, who's against the project.
Climate change and tribal activists object because it would carry Canadian tar sands crude and risks spills in pristine waters where Native Americans harvest wild rice.
"That's the amount of oil that will go through this pipeline - the equivalent of 50 coal-fired power plants," said Winona LaDuke, director of Honor the Earth.
"There were a number of routes on the table for this pipeline, the reality is that every one of them is a bad option," added Brent Murcia, an opponent of the project.
Yet opponents aren't willing to concede defeat just yet.
"It is not over yet," LaDuke said. "It is far from over. And we will work on every regulatory and legal framework to stop this pipeline and we will also stand our ground."
The Associated Press contributed to this story
Brett Hoffland and Josh Rosenthal
Updated: June 28, 2018 10:20 PM
Created: June 28, 2018 01:50 PM
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