PUC reissues orders approving Line 3, Commissioner Schuerger dissents, lawsuits now back in play

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) released orders today reapproving Enbridge Line 3’s Route Permit and Certificate of Need. This now opens the door for legal challenges to the tar sands crude oil pipeline, including suits from Native Nations who say the project threatens their treaty rights, their sacred wild rice, and their clean waters.

The PUC’s actions today again put pressure on Gov. Tim Walz to decide where he stands on the Line 3 project, and whether he will reaffirm a lawsuit against the project by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

A year ago, Line 3 opponents had filed lawsuits against the PUC in the Minnesota Court of Appeals, seeking to overturn its permits and environmental impact statement. Because one of those challenges succeeded, the PUC had to go back, fix Line 3’s environmental impact statement, and revote on the permits, which it did Feb. 3.

The PUC didn’t issue the new orders until today, and that action is the trigger that allows lawsuits to be refiled. Here are examples of the lawsuits that were in the queue before the legal delays.

  • Friends of the Headwaters, Honor the Earth, and the Sierra Club filed a joint suit against the PUC to overturn Line 3’s Route Permit on Feb. 12, 2019.
  • The Minnesota Department of Commerce filed suit against the PUC to overturn Line 3’s Certificate of Need on March 29, 2019.
  • The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, Honor the Earth and the Sierra Club filed a joint suit against the PUC to overturn Line 3’s Certificate of Need on April 16, 2019.
  • The Friends of the Headwaters filed a suit against the PUC to overturn Line 3’s Certificate of Need on April 16, 2019.
  • The Youth Climate Intervenors filed a suit against the PUC to overturn Line 3’s Certificate of Need on April 18, 2019.
Gov. Tim Walz

Of particular interest is the Department of Commerce’s lawsuit. It would be a significant benefit to have a state agency oppose the project along with environmental groups and Native Nations. The Department argued before the PUC that Enbridge failed to prove that the project was needed based on future energy demands. When the PUC ignored its recommendation, the Department brought its suit, initially under the Dayton administration. The Walz administration renewed it, but Walz will be under political pressure to drop the lawsuit because of the jobs Line 3 would create.

Walz needs to hear from the public that the Department of Commerce should refile its lawsuit against Line 3.

It’s also worth noting that PUC Commissioner Matt Schuerger, who supported the project back in 2018, wrote a powerful dissenting opinion in the PUC’s recent order (see PDF page 20). It’s a credit both to his open mindedness and to the power of public testimony to sway decision makers.

His comments should strengthen the legal challenges against Line 3 that are expected to come.

Commissioner Matt Schuerger.

Schuerger writes that the facts have changed since Enbridge originally sought its permits and since the PUC’s initial 2018 vote:

The science of climate change and the urgency of action is now clear and undeniable. Internationally, nationally, and particularly in Minnesota, individuals, businesses large and small, states, and cities are taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The applicant’s forecast fails to account for the significant impact these developments will have reducing the demand for the type of energy supplied by the proposed project. …

A sea change is underway in how we procure and use energy. As countries, states, cities, businesses, and individuals act to reduce greenhouse emissions, demand for oil will fall.

Schuerger also weighed the project’s impacts on Native Americans as part of his reconsideration:

The record reflects, and we heard repeatedly in oral arguments that the proposed project, which would traverse ceded territories where Minnesota’s Ojibwe and Chippewa tribes hold usufructuary hunting, fishing, and gathering rights,“will directly, materially, and adversely impact” many indigenous populations. The Mille Lacs Band and the Fond du Lacs Band, highlighted, among other issues, significant risks to wild rice beds and to Big Sandy Lake.

The ALJ [Administrative Law Judge] found that the effects of the project upon Minnesota’s natural resources and Native American people (particularly the Anishinaabe), weigh heavily against granting a certificate of need to a project that would establish a new pipeline corridor through Minnesota. I agree that this finding is clearly and extensively supported by the record evidence.

Click on the link above to read his full dissent.

2 thoughts on “PUC reissues orders approving Line 3, Commissioner Schuerger dissents, lawsuits now back in play

  1. Has anyone addressed enbridges “need” as part of the certificate of need? What I mean is, is the pipeline a true need, or just a route to more profits? I’m sure there must be other alternatives for them, maybe not as profitable but doable. Until alternative forms of energy are more available, we will need oil, but we don’t need more oil infrastructure. Just my 2 cents. Will welcome comments to educate me.

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    • Susan, the Minnesota Department of Commerce (which represented the public interest before the MN Public Utilities Commission) concluded that Enbridge had failed to show the pipeline was needed. Expect to see this issue got to court. — SR

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