Disappointment: Conservative Judge Rules Enbridge Line 3 EIS “Adequate”

There has been a lot of news in the past few days about Enbridge Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline, as debate moves forward on a two-track process. On one track is the question of whether the environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared by the Minnesota Department of Commerce is adequate or needs to be rewritten. On the other track is the question of whether the state should issue a “Certificate of Need” and “Route Permit” for Line 3.

This post will focus on the EIS.

Eric Lipman, the administrative law judge tasked with reviewing the Line 3 EIS, has determined it is adequate. That is a big disappointment, as many native and environmental groups and ordinary citizens had found it deeply flawed. Lipmans’ recommendation goes to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which will make the final determination.

Here are stories in the StarTribune and MPR on Lipman’s decision. The StarTribune story  notes:

Among criticisms of the EIS, the environmental group Friends of the Headwaters maintained that the EIS did not assess a possible large oil spill into the headwaters of the Mississippi River or other “high consequence areas” in Itasca and Hubbard counties. Specifically, the group wanted an analysis of a potential leak on par with Enbridge’s massive 2010 pipeline spill in Michigan, which cost the company over $1 billion to clean up.

Lipman disagreed, writing that such specific spill modeling wasn’t necessary.

Lipman’s decision on the Line 3 EIS wasn’t a surprise. He had been assigned to the Sandpiper project earlier. (Sandpiper would have carried fracked oil from North Dakota east into Minnesota, joining up with the proposed new Line 3. Click here for map of the two projects.) In the Sandpiper case, Lipman ruled in favor of the company, recommending approval of Sandpiper’s Certificate of Need and Route Permit.

Ultimately, Enbrdige dropped the Sandpiper proposal. According to a Sept. 2, 2016 article in the Star Tribune, Enbridge made the decision after deciding to buy into the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The White Earth Nation attempted unsuccessfully to get Lipman recused as the judge for reviewing the Line 3 EIS, saying he was prejudiced. (Its motion was in support of a request by Friends of the Headwaters.)

White Earth attorney Joseph Plummer’s court filing noted that in the Sandpiper case, Lipman had concluded that “lifecycle issues related to crude oil,  greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change are outside the scope of what the PUC may consider.” Lipman would not come into the Line 3 debate with an open mind. As Plummer wrote, he was unlikely to reverse himself on previous decisions.

Another strong argument against Line 3 was that it violated the Treaty of 1855 which guaranteed the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) the right to hunt, fish, and gather along the pipeline’s route. Lipman also had ruled on that issue in the Sandpiper case, saying did not think the treaty forbid the issuance of a pipeline permit.

So Lipman’s Sandpiper ruling suggested that serious criticism of the Line 3 project’s impact on climate change and treaty rights would be off the table before the debate even started.

Plummer also noted that Lipman was the most political of the administrative law judges the PUC could have chosen. (Plummer came to that conclusion after reading all the judge biographies  on the Office of Administrative Hearings website.) “In addition to being a state Republican legislator,  he [Lipman] also was General Acting Counsel to Governor Pawlenty, a Deputy Secretary of State under Republican Mary Kiffmeyer, and the Political Director for Rod Grams for U.S. Senate,” he said. None of the other administrative law judges had that kind of political resume.

You can read Plummer’s full affidavit, here.

Lipman’s recommendation on the EIS will carry weight with the Public Utilities Commission. Line 3 opponents could chose to challenge his decision in court. And there still is the separate opportunity to press the PUC to reject the Certificate of Need and Route Plan.

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Tar Sands Pipeline Opponents Rally, March, and Pack the Hearing; Line 3 Backers Offer Easily Refuted Arguments

Those seeking to stop Line 3 greatly outnumbered its supporters at a Sept. 28 public hearing in downtown St. Paul. Instead of applause, Line 3 opponents waved blue hankies to signal support for speakers.

Efforts to Stop the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline are in the home stretch. Those seeking to stop the pipeline had a great showing Thursday, rallying at the Capitol, marching down Cedar, and packing a public hearing held at the Intercontinental Hotel.

It was a standing room only crowd, with testimony against the pipeline far outweighing supporters. Still, let’s take a minute to address and respond to the pro-pipeline testimony. Here are the main arguments Enbridge and allies put forward, and quick responses:

Argument 1: Job Creation: Enbridge touts that this project will create 4,200 full-time but temporary construction jobs in Minnesota (yet only half of those jobs are expected to be filled by Minnesotans). This project is not supposed to be approved based on the number of jobs it creates. The question is “Do we need this pipeline or not?” and the answer is “no,” according to testimony from the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The United States already is a net exporter of refined petroleum products and our exports are growing. Further, Line 3 job creation is massively expensive if you factor in the environmental and public health costs from tar sands mining and transportation. (More below.)

Argument 2: The Old Line 3 is Falling Apart, a New One Would Be Safer: There is no dispute that the current pipeline is in bad shape. Building a new one is not the safest option. Approving the pipeline would be repeating a mistake. We don’t need this pipeline; if we approve it, in another 30-50 years we will have another old and decrepit pipeline rotting in the ground.

Argument 3: Pipelines are Safer than Rail: On one hand, Enbridge argues if the permits for the new Line 3 are denied, it would keep using the old and failing Line 3. On the other hand, it raises the specter of more crude oil moving by rail and truck. That ignores the safest choice: no pipeline, no rail.

More on all three of these arguments below.

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Environmental Analysis of Tar Sands Pipeline Fails on Readability, Citizen Engagement

Third in a series of critiques of the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s final environmental impact statement (EIS) on Enbridge Line 3, a proposal to expand and reroute a tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. Commerce is taking public comments on the adequacy of the EIS until 4:30 p.m. Oct. 2. To learn how to submit comments, click here.

People packed the hall in Bemidji to comment on the draft EIS.

For the third installment, let’s look at the opaque and slanted language of the environmental impact statement (EIS) and how its exclusively technical bent prevents citizens from effectively engaging the debate.

The EIS is inadequate in that it provides a flood of data, but very little analysis that pulls it together in a meaningful way. Yes, the detailed technical analysis is necessary, but so are plain English explanations of what it means. Typically, these kinds of reports includes introductions and summaries that help citizens understand the basic context. These are notably absent from the report.

It works to Enbridge’s advantage to have an EIS written in a way that only experts understand.

Compounding the problem, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has started the last round of public hearings on Enbridge Line 3 before it has determined whether the EIS is adequate. The EIS is a critical source of public information.

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In Show of Hubris, Enbridge Starts Tar Sands Pipeline Work Well in Advance of Minnesota Approvals

Pipelines stored in northwestern Minnesota, near White Earth.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) won’t vote until next spring on whether to allow an expanded tar sands crude oil pipeline to cut through the heart of northern Minnesota, threatening our lakes and rivers. But that hasn’t stopped Enbridge from starting pipeline construction in both Canada and Wisconsin, apparently assuming Minnesota approvals are a done deal.

Also, the movement and storage of pipelines through northern Minnesota has those opposed to Enbridge Line 3 very nervous.

Enbridge is proposing a 1,097-mile tar sands crude oil pipeline, starting in Alberta, crossing the length of northern Minnesota, and ending up in Superior, Wisc. The company wants to leave the old and failing Line 3 pipeline in the ground and install a new and larger pipeline. The plan includes a partial reroute of the line. The reroute  crosses the Mississippi River, twice, and also threatens wild rice areas

The Line 3 expansion is nowhere near approval in Minnesota, yet earlier this week, Wisconsin Public Radio reported that Enbridge is already working on replacing a 12-mile section in Wisconsin — investing $100 million. According to the story:

Elizabeth Ward with the John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club in Wisconsin said she’s surprised construction is already underway in Wisconsin “given that the Minnesota process is still underway and they’re not even really close to getting their permits on the Minnesota side.”

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Report: Tar Sands Tailing Ponds Hold Hidden Costs, a Legacy of Cancer Risks

We’ve written about how the proposed tar sands oil pipeline expansion across northern Minnesota would run through the Mississippi headwaters region, threaten our lakes and streams, and violate treaty rights.

Those reasons should be more than enough to stop the project. But we should remember, too, the incredible damage tar sands mining does in Canada and particularly to First Nation’s peoples there.

The immediate issue is the proposed expansion and rerouting of Enbridge Line 3 through Minnesota, one of several tar sands crude oil pipelines coming out of Alberta. (See previous blogs.)

A recent report from  Canada’s Environmental Defence and the U.S.’s National Resource Defense Council provides some alarming data about the impacts of tar sands mining in general and why we should deny the Line 3 permit.

Tar sands mining requires intensive water use and creates toxic tailing ponds. These tailing ponds recently topped 1 billion liters (more than 300 billion gallons) and growing, the report said. These tailing ponds include: arsenic, benzene, lead, and mercury and pose long-term health risks and hidden costs.

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Line 3 Teach In: Learn about Proposed Tar Sands Pipeline through Northern Minnesota and What You Can Do to Stop it!

Minnesota has an opportunity to stop an unnecessary and ill-advised tar sands crude oil pipeline project in our state. Come to a Teach-In to learn about the project and what you can do to help stop it. The Teach-In is Thursday, June 29th, at Walker Community United Methodist Church, 3104 16th Ave. S., Minneapolis. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Here is the Facebook page for the event.

Enbridge, a large energy transportation and delivery business, has several tar sands oil pipelines running through Minnesota. It has proposed abandoning an existing pipeline (Line 3) in the ground and installing a new and larger pipeline, including a reroute. The proposed new route would cut right through the Mississippi Headwaters region as well as prime wild ricing areas and violate treaty rights.

For more, this blog has a separate page dedicated to Line 3.

The event is being co-sponsored by Honor the Earth, Healing Minnesota Stories, the Facilitating Racial Equity Collaborative, and the Sierra Club North Star Chapter.

Your Help Needed to Stop Enbridge Line 3, Public Comment Period Now Open

Honor the Earth’s map showing Enbridge Line 3’s current and proposed routes through northern Minnesota. The green area represents where the Ojibwe have treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather wild rice.

The public comment period is now open for a proposed crude oil pipeline running 337 miles through northern Minnesota, threatening our lakes and rivers and Ojibwe livelihood and lifeways. The pipeline would carry tar sands crude, a particularly dirty form of fossil fuel, for Alberta, Canada to Superior Wisconsin.

This is Minnesota’s version of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Honor the Earth, the Sierra Club’s North Star Chapter, MN350 and other groups are organizing to stop the project, known as Enbridge Line 3. Enbridge has a current Line 3 which is old and failing. It wants to abandon that pipeline in the ground and install a new and larger pipeline along a new route, which will pass through the Mississippi headwaters region and prime wild rice areas. (See map at right.)

The Minnesota Department of Commerce released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (dEIS) on May 15, and the public comment period runs through July 10.

Here is how you can get involved: Continue reading