The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC’s) deeply flawed decision approving the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota likely will get challenged in court. Some of the legal arguments against the PUC are now coming into focus.
Seven organizations and tribal governments filed motions asking the PUC to reconsider its vote approving Line 3’s Certificate of Need. The Minnesota Department of Commerce’s motion says the PUC’s decision: “contains legal errors and ambiguities.” The Youth Climate Intervenors’ motion said that: “The Commission’s explicit denial of climate science and wholesale dismissal of treaty rights as ‘unnecessary’ are appalling.” A joint motion by Honor the Earth, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, said the PUC’s order: “fails to interpret state law to favor the public interest and protect the environment as against private interests.”
It’s doubtful the PUC will budge and reverse its vote, but this is a necessary procedural step to allow Line 3 opponents to sue in court. The legal arguments contained in these motions could form the basis for future lawsuits. If this issue does go to court, the PUC will have a lot of explaining to do about why it consistently favored Enbridge and ignored public testimony and the administrative law judge’s independent recommendations.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) failed Minnesota citizens and Native nations by approving the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. The PUC seemed to bend over backwards to favor international corporate interests over Minnesota’s interests. At the same time, it seem to cave into Enbridge’s thinly veiled threat to keep running the old and dangerous Line 3 if the new Line 3 wasn’t approved.
Here are 18 flaws in the PUC’s decision and its process.
Enbridge held a gun to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), threatening to continue operating a dangerously flawed crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota unless the commission approved construction of a new and larger pipeline.
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.
In a month, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is expected to take a final vote on key permits for the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline through northern Minnesota. Indigenous and environmental groups kept up the pressure opposing the project by hosting a two-day Block Party right in front of PUC offices in downtown St. Paul.
It was called the “Block (Line 3) Party at the PUC,” and it was both a celebration and an act of resistance. The May 18-19 event included a meeting with Gov. Mark Dayton’s staff around pipeline issues, a community meal prepared by indigenous grandmothers, a silk screening tent, a water ceremony led by Sharon Day (an Anishinaabe Water Walker), community education, Line 3 updates, and a music concert featuring Annie Humphrey, Jayanthi Kyle, Thomas X and See More Perspective.
Line 3 is a bad idea, a proposal putting the interests of Canadian oil transportation giant Enbridge and larger oil processing firms over the interests of Minnesotans. Approving Line 3 would set a bad precedent for relocating other Enbridge pipelines throughout the state, increasing harm to the state’s environment, indigenous peoples, and anyone who cares about its waters. Several hundred people attended the event to show their opposition to the pipeline.
Debra Topping, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe, and one of the Block Party organizers, was one of many speakers: “Every day I wake up there is something to fight about,” she said “Every single day we get up and fight for our wild rice.”
Come join pipeline resisters and water protectors at the Block (Line 3) Party in St. Paul, Friday May 18 to Saturday May 19. We must come together to show the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) how important the denial of Line 3 is to all of us.
In June, the PUC will make its final vote on whether or not to approve Enbridge Line 3’s Certificate of Need and Route Permit. This Block Party is one of our last opportunities before that vote to educate one another about Line 3’s very real harms and show the PUC Commissioners that many, many Minnesotans oppose this potentially devastating project.
Here is a link for the Facebook Event where you can sign up to attend and share.
Here is a link to sign up to volunteer at the event.
Invite your friends and family to a weekend filled with lots of opportunities for connecting, sharing, and creating. Music, food and art are just a few of the highlights you’ll experience during our time together.
The Block Party will run from 2 p.m. on Friday May 18 to 2 p.m. on Saturday May 19. It will be held in front of Metro Square, 121 7th Place East, where the PUC has its offices.
Here is the planned schedule of events:
Friday, May 18:
2:30 PM – Capitol Visit: Meet in rotunda at Capitol to visit our elected leadership and ask them to stop Line 3! We’ll walk to the PUC for Block (Line 3) Party, arriving by 4 p.m. or earlier. (Alternative to PUC walk will be offered for people with disabilities)
3:00-6:00 PM – Solutions Fair, Art, & More! The heart of the action! Bring a t-shirt and get it screenprinted for free with pipeline resistance art (donations accepted to help build an action camp art tent), check out a multitude of community organizations and clean energy groups, and learn about statewide action to stop Line 3.
4:00-6:00 PM – Community Meal: Enjoy dinner with the community, contributed by volunteers (food quantities limited), concurrent with the Solutions Fair & Art Tent.
6:00-8:30 PM – Concert to Stop Line 3! A fabulous lineup of musicians from the movement. Bring camp chairs or blankets!
Saturday, May 19:
8:30 AM – Water Ceremony at Mississippi River: Water walker Sharon Day will lead a ceremony starting at the Mississippi River (near Sibley St) and progressing to the PUC. Bring a small container of water from where you live to contribute to the ceremony.
10:00 AM – Line 3 Pledge of Resistance: Let’s show the PUC we’re committed: come sign the Line 3 Pledge of Resistance to commit to take nonviolent action to resist this project or support others who may choose to do so.
12:00-4:00 PM – Direct Action Training or March, Your Choice: Participate in a Direct Action Training at the PUC site hosted by the Line 3 Resistance Training Program OR join the March for Science at nearby Mears Park. Continue reading →
The governor said he is not taking a position on the issue [Line 3] until the Public Utilities Commission decides whether to give Enbridge its blessing to construct the Line 3 replacement.
Comment: This is a sin of omission. The story fails to acknowledge that Gov. Dayton’s own Department of Commerce issued a statement September 11 stating Minnesota did not need Line 3:
Oil market analysis indicates that Enbridge has not established a need for the proposed project; the pipeline would primarily benefit areas outside Minnesota; and serious environmental and socioeconomic risks and effects outweigh limited benefits.
Further, that same day Commerce released its analysis, Gov. Dayton issued a statement saying:
“The Minnesota Department of Commerce has filed its review of Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 Pipeline project. I commend the Department’s professional staff for its very comprehensive analysis.
Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s long-awaited report on Enbridge’s Line 3’s crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota came out late Monday with recommendations that are sure to disappoint the pipeline’s indigenous and environmental opponents as well as Enbridge itself.
The recommendations do not offer a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the proposed 337 mile pipeline from Kitson County to Superior, Wisc. Instead, O’Reilly recommends giving Line 3 tentative approval, hinging on numerous conditions — but conditions that Enbridge surely will oppose.
[Note: I have not read the full report, which was released in the late afternoon. The following analysis relies on initial reads from MN 350, the Youth Climate Intervenors, and the Sierra Club, a group with which I volunteer.]
Significantly, O’Reilly’s 370-page report rejects Enbridge’s preferred route. The recommendations says the only way the project would meet a cost-benefit analysis — and justify a Certificate of Need — would be if the company removed the old Line 3 from its existing trench and used the same trench for the new Line 3.
O’Reilly’s recommendations would both add significant costs to Enbridge and create an unwinable legal conflict with Ojibwe bands.
Enbridge proposed abandoning the old pipeline in the ground and installing the new pipeline along a new route. (That route would cross the Mississippi River twice, including the headwaters.) O’Reilly’s requirement to remove the old pipeline and use the existing trench would — by Enbridge’s estimate — add $1.28 billion in costs. (See page 8-13 in the final environmental impact statement.)
Further, the old Line 3 cross reservation lands. Reusing that same trench is a non starter. Tara Houska, National Campaigns Director of Honor the Earth, said it in a statement: “Tribal nations have been crystal clear that a new line is not acceptable; there is no economic need for Line 3 and the risk it poses to Minnesota.” So even if Enbridge was willing to fork out the extra $1 billion to remove the old pipeline, it’s highly unlikely it would ever get the needed permission from Native nations to build it.
Lastly, O’Reilly’s report is clear that Native nations have the right to say “no” to any new pipeline through their territory. On page 10 of her report, she writes:
Just like the Commission [PUC] cannot bind the federal government, the Commission does not have the authority to require the Indian Tribes to permit the replacement of Line 3 within the Reservations.
The recommendations now go to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which is expected to cast final votes in June on Line 3’s Route Permit and its Certificate of Need. O’Reilly’s conditions seem to be deal killers, but unfortunately she doesn’t come out and say that. They leave the PUC some wiggle room. It’s still anyone’s guess how the PUC will vote.
Perhaps the only certainty is that there will be litigation regardless what happens.