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Court reverses regulators’ decision on pipeline (UPDATE)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday said state regulators must conduct a further review of Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace its deteriorating Line 3 crude oil pipeline because the project’s environmental-impact statement doesn’t take seriously the possibility of an oil spill into the Lake Superior watershed.

The Public Utilities Commission last year signed off on what was intended to be the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s final environmental review of the project. Several environmental groups and tribal appealed that decision. A three-judge panel voted 2-1 to send the case back to the commission for further proceedings regarding the potential impact on Lake Superior, but rejected all the opponents’ other claims.

The $2.6 billion replacement pipeline would carry Canadian crude from Alberta oil across northern Minnesota to Enbridge’s terminal in the city of Superior, which lies just south of Lake Superior. The current Line 3, which was built in the 1960s, is increasingly subject to corrosion and cracking, and runs at only about half its original capacity for safety reasons.

Tribal and environmental groups argue that the project increases the risk of oil spills in pristine areas of the Mississippi River headwaters region, where American Indians gather wild rice, and that the Canadian tar-sands oil that the line would carry accelerates climate change.

The commission earlier this year approved the construction of Line 3, a decision separate from its approval of the environmental-impact statement. Project opponents and the state Commerce Department are appealing that approval separately, raising different legal questions. Meanwhile, regulators are still considering several permit applications.

Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge said it was disappointed with the court’s decision, saying the environmental review was the most extensive study of a pipeline project in state history, and that it will consult state regulators on its next steps. Enbridge had hoped to put the new line into service in the second half of 2020.

Winona LaDuke, executive director of the indigenous environmental group Honor the Earth, which is a party to the case, said she was “elated” about the ruling affecting Lake Superior. But she said she and her colleagues are considering appealing on the arguments that the court rejected, including their assertion that state law requires the completion of a survey on the pipeline’s likely effects on tribal historical and cultural resources.

Republicans legislators in Minnesota tried unsuccessfully during their recent session to try to block the Commerce Department from participating in the various Line 3 appeals. But Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has said he wants to let the legal process play out.

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