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A tanker truck passes by an Enbridge storage tank. Michael Vosburg/Forum News Service

Line 3 project faces additional delays as agencies wait for guidance on environmental review

ST. PAUL — The process of greenlighting pending applications for the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline project in northern Minnesota will again be delayed as state agencies wait for a revised environmental impact statement.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday, June 18, said they would wait to take final action on the Line 3 replacement project as well as on pending permit applications until the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission takes up a deficiency in the application identified by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The announcement comes weeks after the court said an environmental review of Enbridge’s pipeline was “inadequate” because it did not consider the effects of an oil spill in Lake Superior’s watershed. The court did not challenge the eight other points disputed in the final environmental impact statement appeal, including the pipeline’s impact on tribal resources.

"The two agencies will continue their work reviewing the Line 3 applications," leaders from the agency and department said in a statement. "The court’s decision, however, does have implications for how this work will proceed."

The MPCA was set to publish draft permits and a water quality certification on July 1, but the appeals court decision will push back the date of their release. The MPCA and DNR will continue reviewing the applications until they receive further guidance about the environmental impact statement, according to a joint statement from the agency and department.

An Enbridge spokeswoman and groups that support the replacement project said the news constituted another setback and urged the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to take the issue up quickly.

"For the thousands of people across Minnesota who support this important project, the bureaucratic system has been frustrating," Mike Zipko, a spokesman for Minnesotans for Line 3, said, "and we are disappointed that the recent Minnesota Court of Appeals decision that deemed the EIS inadequate on one narrow issue has caused yet another delay to this project."

Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner said the company is working with the Walz administration and state agencies to reconfigure the timeline for the permitting process with the PUC's schedule.

"We believe the actions required to address the spill modeling in the Lake Superior watershed can be completed efficiently," Kellner said in a news release.

Winona LaDuke, executive director for environmental advocacy group Honor the Earth, said the departments' move to wait to move forward with additional permitting was "prudent."

“The only state governing body that seems to be missing the big picture is the Public Utilities Commission," LaDuke said in a news release.

The PUC, which voted to approve Line 3’s certificate of need and route permit last year, determined the final environmental impact statement was adequate in May 2018, backing the administrative law judge who also said the study was adequate in late 2017.