DNR Comments on Line 3 Report Raise Additional Environmental Concerns

Enbridge’s current deteriorating Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline on the Fond du Lac Reservation, exposed above ground. Enbridge wants to abandon the pipeline. Photo: John Ratzloff

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) both weighed in on the Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s report and recommendations on Line 3, clarifying, amplifying, and critiquing them.

Both agencies generally compliment Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s report for being, as the DNR put it, “comprehensive” and “neutral.” Neither agency takes a position on how the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) should vote on the Line 3 permits.

Still, the agency comments provide further illumination on why the PUC should reject Line 3. The DNR comments show that Enbridge’s current plans fails to provide adequate protections to northern Minnesota’s waters and environment. The MPCA comments reinforce O’Reilly’s critiques of the project’s risks.

Enbridge’s Environmental Protection Plan is Inadequate

In the Judge’s report, she discusses Enbridge’s Environmental Protection Plan:

[Enbridge] pledges a series of Best Management Practices (BMPs) including: specific compaction prevention measures, seeding, plantings, application of soil amendments, and a period of monitoring to document stabilization of the right-of-way. …

Impacts on rare plant communities that cannot be avoided would be addressed through implementation of the Project’s approved revegetation and monitoring measures; and invasive and noxious weed control measures outlined in the Environmental Protection Plan.” (pages 320-321)

The DNR’s comment of this passage is short and to the point. It said DNR had reviewed Enbridge’s Environmental Protection plan “and determined that it is too general to be relied upon for this purpose.”

Comment: It looks like Enbridge is trying to make promises that sound good on paper but won’t protect the environment.

Wetlands Lack Needed Protection

The DNR also raised questions about wetland protection. It cites the judge’s report, which states: “all wetland changes would be reviewed and approved by the appropriate authorizing agency prior to the start of pipeline construction.”

Again, that sounds good. But, according to the DNR, Enbridge intends to seek a federal “utility line exemption” from the state’s Wetland Conservation Act (WCA). Enbridge can get that exemption from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

According to the DNR:

Presumably the Corps will only address wetlands that are waters of the United States, thus potentially leaving WCA wetlands that are not determined to be waters of the US unregulated.

Comment: Looks like Enbridge gets to have its cake and eat it, too. It can say that it got appropriate approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but avoid stricter state-level scrutiny.

Line 3’s Surface Water Risks More Significant than Report Suggests

In the judge’s report, she writes: “With one exception, the impacts to surface waters from pipeline construction are projected to be temporary and minor for all routes.”

The DNR disagrees, saying that conclusion was inconsistent with the EIS Chapter 6 findings. Those said Line 3 would create:
  • Temporary to permanent and negligible to major impacts from disruption of flow paths or local hydrologic connectivity.
  • Short-term to long-term and minor to major impacts from disturbance of wild rice waterbodies.
  • Long-term and major impacts from degradation to water quality and habitat from uncontained releases of Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) drilling mud.

Comment: OK, that’s a lot of bureaucratic language, but the bottom line is that the project creates risks to water that could be both “long-term” and “major.” That should weigh heavily in the PUC decision.

Additional language from the final revised EIS is illuminating on this issue. It says:

Although not anticipated, construction-related impacts on wild rice waterbodies could include longer than expected recovery time for native wild rice stands (i.e., impacts could affect rice waterbodies beyond the first growing season after construction), introduction of contaminants, introduction of invasive aquatic plants and non-native strains of wild rice, and altered lakebed conditions—all of which could be detrimental to wild rice germination and production. (Chapter 6, page 271)
Comment: The EIS goes on to say that Enbridge could address these potential impacts through its Environmental Protection Plan. But we know from the DNR’s letter that it considers Enbridge’s Environmental Protection Plan “too general to be relied upon.”

Reinforcing Important Findings in the Judge’s Report

The MPCA’s letter  reinforces key findings in the Judge’s report. They include:

Enbridge’s Preferred Route and All Alternative Routes Harm Poor People. According to the MPCA, all alternative routes, including Enbridge’s preferred route: “will have disproportionate and adverse impacts on environmental justice communities, including low-income and minority populations. … [Enbridge’s preferred route] crosses 155 miles of areas of concern for environmental justice, or 46 percent of the route, affecting 24,909 low-income people.”

Line 3’s Climate Change Costs are Very High: The MPCA supported the Judge’s and the EIS analysis of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions stating the “social cost of carbon” — e.g. the costs climate change — is $287 billion over 30 years.

Line 3 Abandonment Sets a Larger Precedent: The MPCA shares the Judge’s concerns about the environmental impacts of Enbridge’s plan to abandon Line 3 in the ground. It writes: “The MPCA recognizes that the abandonment question raises significant policy issues for Minnesota that are broader than this project and should be considered in determining whether an existing line should be permanently abandoned.”

Comment: If Enbridge’s plan is approved, it would be the first time Minnesota would approve the abandonment of a crude oil pipeline. This would set a significant precedent for what Enbridge does with its other five aging pipelines in its mainline corridor through the state. Enbridge already is buying easements to move three more lines into the new Line 3 corridor. The PUC needs to take this precedent into consideration in the upcoming vote, expected late June.

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