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

Minnesota Supreme Court denies Line 3 appeal, likely allowing project to advance

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday, Sept. 17, denied a request to weigh in on the adequacy of an environmental impact assessment of a proposed oil pipeline project in northern Minnesota, likely allowing the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline project to move forward.

Honor the Earth, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, White Earth Band of Ojibwe, Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians and Friends of the Headwaters argued that they weren't adequately consulted in the planning and approval of the pipeline project that would replace Enbridge's existing 50-year-old Line 3 and carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta to the Enbridge terminal in Superior, Wis. They said Enbridge's plan didn't adequately lay out the impact the project could have on cultural and historic resources.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals in June ruled an environmental review of the proposed pipeline project was "inadequate" because it did not consider the effects of an oil spill in Lake Superior’s watershed. But the court said many other points disputed in the final environmental impact statement, including the pipeline’s impact on tribal resources, met required standards.

The Supreme Court's decision not to review the opinion sends the crude oil pipeline's environmental impact statement back to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and shrinks what could've been an extended delay if members had agreed to hear the appeals.

Public Utilities Commission Chair Katie Sieben in a news release said the commission planned to review the project's environmental impact "in the near future" and decide how to move forward accordingly.

Opponents, including tribal leaders and conservation advocates, said the court made the wrong move. However, the decision and the PUC's movement on the proposal were welcome news for the project's supporters, including labor and construction groups, unions and lawmakers.

“The Minnesota Supreme Court today made the right decision," Abby Loucks, with Minnesotans for Line 3, said. "The time for reviewing what has already been fully reviewed and approved is over. Minnesota needs to make sure the updates to the (environmental impact statement) are completed, finish the work on the permits and let workers get started with construction.”

Juli Kellner, a spokeswoman from Enbridge, in a statement said the company will look to the Minnesota PUC for further guidance and a schedule about when it might be able to move forward. Kellner said clarity about what's to come will allow the group to firm up contracts and bring on workers.

Executive Director of Honor the Earth Winona LaDuke said Enbridge should've done on-the-ground surveys before mapping its proposed path to avoid harming archaeological and historical sites. She said the failure to do so could result in destruction of tribal resources.

“We are profoundly disappointed that the Minnesota Supreme Court felt more interested in siding with the rights of a Canadian corporation to proceed with a high-risk project than protecting the rights of the Minnesota Anishinabe and indigenous people and the rights of nature,” LaDuke said.

She said the parties that challenged the project would pursue additional efforts through the legal or regulatory system to block the pipeline.