Last year, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled the state’s environmental impact statement for the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline was inadequate. In a glaring error, it failed to consider the impact of a crude oil spill in the Lake Superior watershed.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission ordered the Minnesota Department of Commerce to revise the Line 3 EIS (for a second time). Once again, the results are disappointing. The state has made industry-friendly assumptions that underestimate the project’s risks. The EIS remains flawed.
It’s the latest example of how government is abdicating its role in environmental protection. The Washington Post reported today that President Trump is proposing changes “to 50-year-old regulations that would speed the development of new mines, pipelines and hundreds of other projects around the country, including some that could harm the environment and accelerate climate change. The move also could prevent communities from having as much say about what gets built in their backyards.”
Here in Minnesota, politicians and key state agencies seem to have dropped environmental protection from their list of priorities. The Star Tribune, MinnPost, MPR, and other media outlets reported last year on how under Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency worked to keep damning information about the PolyMet Mine proposal out of the public record.
The PUC’s Line 3 review process has created more cynicism for citizens who care about environmental protection.
The project should have been dead in its tracks in 2017. Administrative Law Judge [ALJ] Ann C. O’Reilly concluded that the costs outweighed the benefits of building Line 3 along Enbridge’s preferred route. The Minnesota Department of Commerce said Enbridge had failed to prove that Line 3 was needed.
The PUC ignored both of these significant findings, ignored significant issues of treaty rights, and approved the project anyway. Jerry Striegel of St. Paul summed up the thoughts of many who have opposed Line 3. Participating in the public process on Line 3 has been “something of a fool’s errand,” he wrote.
Adding to public distrust, the PUC chose to hold its sole public hearing on the revised Line 3 EIS in Duluth on Dec. 19. Thomas Schmidt of Bemidji wrote the PUC: “I am disappointed that the PUC is trying to avoid public engagement by having set the public hearing in Duluth just days before Christmas.”
Let’s turn now to recent critiques of the state’s revised EIS for Enbridge Line 3.
The state’s new EIS assumes a rapid and effective crude oil spill response, which doesn’t square with Enbridge’s track record. As Friends of the Headwaters wrote the PUC:
The revised FEIS’s spill volume calculations assume that discovery of a spill would be immediate, that all automated systems will work as planned, that the valves would be closed no later than 13 minutes after discovery, and that full-bore rupture would be totally under control within 24 hours. Those assumptions are way too rosy.
That certainly wasn’t the case in Enbridge’s 2010 Michigan spill which cost more than $1 billion to clean up. Why the state of Minnesota regulators are blindly accepting Enbridge’s assurances as fact is a mystery.
The state modeled a crude oil spill site that underestimates a worst-case spill. The new EIS models a spill where Line 3 crosses Little Otter Creek in the Lake Superior Watershed. According to Friends of the Headwaters, that site “is approximately 15 miles from the St. Louis Estuary, 27 miles from the Duluth-Superior harbor, and 32 miles from Lake Superior proper.”
Line 3 would also cross the Pokegama and Little Pokegama Rivers in Wisconsin, which are about five miles away from the St. Louis River Estuary. The state’s “site selection predetermined a limited-risk outcome that does not reflect the actual potential risk to these critical natural resource,” Friends of the Headwaters wrote
The new EIS lacks important details. Again, according to Friends of the Headwaters:
The revised [EIS] does not assess what the public health and safety impacts or the ecological effects would be if there were a major oil spill in the Lake Superior watershed. It does not assess potential measures to restore affected natural resources, including what they might cost, and it makes no attempt to quantify the potential natural resource and economic damages.
Rita Chamblin from Bemidji echoes those concerns in her letter to the PUC:
The model shows that a potential spill would coat the estuary in oil, damaging habitats and setting back restoration efforts. The report ignores the wild rice growing in the estuary and the massive investment in the restoration of the estuary.
All these comments point to the state doing a rushed job. The state is accepting Enbridge’s statements — such as its spill response times — as fact, ignoring Enbridge’s history. It’s updated EIS still is missing important information, such as restoration costs of major spills. The goal here seems to be doing the minimum to get the project back before the PUC to get it approved.
Public comments identify a number of other significant concerns. Click on the links above for more details.
In closing, consider Striegel’s challenge to the PUC:
Please recall Boeing’s two 737 MAX crashes during 2018 and 2019. Culpability was clearly fixed on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the regulatory body, and the Boeing engineering firm. Lax certification procedures, design misrepresentation, and short cutting engineering were identified as causal to the events. Boeing gambled, the FAA didn’t catch it, and 346 people perished. The horrific losses incurred in these preventable events pales relative to the losses resulting from failure to address climate change [from Line 3]. If given a second chance, what do you think the FAA and Boeing would choose to do today?
The PUC will continue accepting comments on Line 3’s revised EIS through January 16. Here is the link with the details.
This post opposing Enbridge Line 3 is included in Healing Minnesota Stories blog because the Ojibwe people of northern Minnesota would bear the major burden of this project, which violate their treaty rights and threaten their sacred wild rice.