CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated where the motion was filed. It was filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
In a motion filed today at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the Red Lake and White Earth nations have asked for a “stay” of Enbridge Line 3 construction until the Court makes a ruling on pending legal challenges.
The substantive legal issues have yet to be argued. The Court’s decision isn’t expected until June.
Enbridge has written landowners it expects to start construction Nov. 30. It expects to complete the project in six to nine months (or sometime between May 31 and Aug 31.) That means without the stay, the pipeline could be finished before the Court rules on its legality.
“Absent a stay the Tribes’ appeal would become meaningless,” their legal brief said. Allowing construction to start “would cause irreparable harm.”
If the PUC rejects the Tribes request, it can be appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
To illustrate the damage they worry about, the Tribes cite a report by Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly on the project’s impacts. It says Line 3 “would impact 25,765 acres of high vulnerability water table aquifers.”
The route would “expose 12,318 acres of unusually sensitive ecological (high consequence) areas and 2,444 acres of high consequence drinking water sources to the risks of accidental release.”
Red Lake, White Earth, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Honor the Earth, Friends of the Headwaters, The Minnesota Department of Commerce, the Sierra Club, the Youth Climate Intervenors, and the Minnesota Department of Commerce (DOC) have a consolidated case opposing Line 3 before the Court of Appeals. They are asking the Court to reject the PUC’s approved Line 3’s environmental impact statement and its Certificate of Need.
The legal arguments for rejecting the pipeline are many. Line 3 opponents argue the PUC low-balled the project’s true environmental impacts. It failed to consider Line 3’s climate damage ($287 billion over three decades.) It failed to adequately assess the risks of crude oil spills.
The DOC argues that Enbridge failed to make the case that the pipeline is needed.
One of the main arguments that seemed to sway PUC commissioners to approve a new Line 3 was their concern that the existing Line 3 was aging, in need of repair, and could have a significant spill.
The Tribes pushed back on that argument, calling the PUC’s actions illegal.
The federal government — not the state of Minnesota — has the legal authority to address interstate crude oil pipeline safety issues, it wrote. The PUC doesn’t “have any jurisdiction over pipeline safety, any expertise in pipeline safety, or any authority to make pipeline safety decisions.”
The Tribes also argued for a stay based on the current pandemic.
In addition, employment of thousands of construction workers to build the project during the currently raging COVID-19 pandemic will likely accelerate the spread of infection, sickness, and death through northern Minnesota, including within tribal communities and tribal members, thereby creating irreparable harm.