Regulators shouldn’t have allowed a pipeline in this area
On Saturday, Feb. 6, a piece of heavy excavating equipment used for the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline corridor broke through the ice in Hubbard County. The operator was trapped in freezing cold water which nearly filled his enclosed cab. He was unable to exit and became hypthermic. A dramatic rescue followed, including the destruction of a beaver dam to drop the water level. The operator survived.
The incident occurred near a wetland by LaSalle Creek in an area known as the LaSalle Valley, located between Itasca State Park and the Mississippi Headwaters.
This problem was foreseeable.
Digging deeper into the story raises questions about whether state regulators were paying enough attention when they approved Line 3’s route through the valley.
In terrific news for those opposing the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline, the Minnesota Department of Commerce late today announced it would refile its appeal to stop the project. (Thanks to MPR’s Dan Kraker for the tweet.) The case now heads to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
The Walz administration faced a Wednesday deadline to file its appeal. The Governor hadn’t indicated which way he was leaning. The pressure was on.
Earlier today, Indigenous Nations and environmental groups filed a joint appeal to reject Line 3’s permits. Group representatives called on Walz to renew the state’s appeal at a press conference outside the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
“Yet again, the PUC has refused to acknowledge the reality that Line 3 would pose untenable costs to Minnesota, all to deliver tar sands oil we don’t need,” Sierra Club North Star Chapter Director Margaret Levin said in a media release. “Their bad decision — ignoring state’s agencies’ recommendations, and based on a faulty process — would be devastating for Minnesota’s clean water and communities. The Court must reject the PUC’s decision once and for all.”
The proposed Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline will run 340 miles through northern Minnesota, crossing more than 200 water bodies and 75 miles of wetlands. It also threatens wild rice areas important to the Anishinaabe.
Stunningly, Enbridge already has admitted to state regulators that pipeline construction won’t meet state environmental standards for protecting water. Adding to the problem, Enbridge hasn’t provided details about which environmental standards it plans to disregard or where. Instead, Enbridge has provided generalities which essentially boil down to: “Trust us.”
Sadly, the “Trust Us” argument appears to have traction among state regulators, another example of the power imbalance favoring industry in the state’s regulatory system. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) seemed to have ample trust in Enbridge, approving the project last year over many objections. For instance, it ignored Anishinaabe bands’ claims to treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather on lands and waters threatened by Line 3.
Governor Mark Dayton came out today against the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota, backing a legal challenge by the Minnesota Department of Commerce to overturn the decision of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
In a decision that didn’t seem to line up with the facts, the PUC voted this summer to grant Line 3 a Certificate of Need and a Route permit. Line 3 will add significantly to climate damage and violate treaty rights. Oil spills from Line 3 could damage the Mississippi River and our clean lakes and streams. The evidence shows Minnesota doesn’t need this pipeline; it will only serve to help Canada’s foreign export efforts.
Indigenous and environmental groups have been pushing Dayton to take a stand against Line 3 for more than a year. Now in his final weeks in office, Dayton took a very positive step to stop this unnecessary project. According to his news release, he said:
“I strongly support my Commerce Department’s appeal of the Public Utilities Commission’s Order.
“Enbridge failed to provide a future demand forecast for its product, which is required by state law. Instead, the company presented its analysis of the future oil supply from Canadian tar sands extractions. It failed to demonstrate that Minnesota needs this pipeline to meet our future oil demand. In fact, most of the product would flow through our state to supply other states and countries.
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.
This is the last in a series reviewing responses to Enbridge’s last-minute promises to improve its Line 3 pipeline project. The PUC adopted Enbridge’s promises with no pubic scrutiny. Previous blogs hare reviewed responses from Native tribes and state agencies. This last blog will look at the Friends of the Headwaters response.
Enbridge promised the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that it would have the financial backing to clean up a worst-case crude oil spill from its Line 3 expansion project in Minnesota. That was one of several hurried promises Enbridge made to secure needed PUC votes.
The promises might look good on paper, but there is no guarantee they will deliver results. The Friends of the Headwaters says Enbrdige’s promises lack critical details, minimize the size of catastrophic spill, and put future Minnesotans at-risk for footing the clean-up bill.
The promises “will do little to prevent an insolvent Enbridge from avoiding its [clean-up] responsibilities,” the Friends said in a legal filing to the PUC. The problem, the Friends say, is that Enbridge hasn’t even provided an estimate for what it would cost to clean up a disastrous spill — and that’s the essential first step in providing financial accountability. Continue reading →