By STEVE KARNOWSKI
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz’s administration said Tuesday it will appeal the latest approvals by state utility regulators for Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace its old and corroding Line 3 crude-oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.
The state Commerce Department is faced with a deadline on Wednesday to ask the Minnesota Court of Appeals to take another look at the project. Environmental and tribal groups opposed to the pipeline have already filed their appeals.
Walz said in a statement that the state must follow “the process, the law, and the science” for any project that impacts Minnesota’s environment and economy.
“The Department of Commerce’s appeal is a part of that process, and it is important to ensure clarity in the steps that Minnesota takes to evaluate and approve projects like this one,” Walz said.
House Republican Leader Kurt Daudt of Crown said Walz was “wasting taxpayer resources in an attempt to stop this project.”
“Instead of helping the one in four Minnesotans unemployed along the Line 3 route, the Governor has once again chosen to obstruct and delay this critical project and the thousands of jobs it would bring to Northern Minnesota,” Daudt said.
Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge says its planned $2.6 billion investment will put 4,200 people to work in union construction jobs while boosting tax revenues for the state and communities along the route.
The company called the Walz administration’s decision disappointing. The project has undergone six years of review, more than 70 public meetings and a 13,500-page Environmental Impact Statement, the company said.
But Enbridge said it remains confident that the courts will uphold Minnesota regulators’ approvals and that it will continue to pursue the remaining permits with a goal of starting construction as soon as they are received.
Supporters and opponents of the project had stepped up pressure on the state government in recent days. Opponents rallied outside the Capitol and the official Governor’s Residence on Tuesday to urge him to keep up the fight, while supporters brought petitions and replica pipes to the Capitol last Thursday to urge no more delays or appeals.
Enbridge says replacing the aging pipeline, which was built in the 1960s, is the safest option for maintaining the oil supply to Midwest refineries.
Opponents have long argued that the Canadian tar sands oil that the replacement pipeline would carry would aggravate climate change, and that spills could endanger sensitive waters and wetlands in the Mississippi River headwaters region where Native Americans harvest wild rice and claim treaty rights.
The Public Utilities Commission reaffirmed its support for the project in February. The commission originally approved the environmental review and issued a certificate of need and route permit in 2018. But the Minnesota Court of Appeals sent the review back to the PUC for further study on the potential risks of an oil spill in the Lake Superior watershed. The Commerce Department then conducted additional modeling and concluded in the final review that there was little chance of a spill reaching the lake.
However, the department joined with other opponents in petitioning the commission to reconsider anyway. They argued that new evidence had emerged in the meantime, including a drop in oil demand due to the coronavirus pandemic. Commerce specifically argued that Enbridge had failed to conduct a legally adequate long-range demand forecast. But the commission rejected those arguments and voted 4-1 to reaffirm its support for the project.
The Commerce Department said in a statement it would appeal because Enbridge did not introduce a long-term demand forecast that the PUC could evaluate, and because the commission had shifted the burden of proof from Enbridge to the department and others to show that demand for oil transmitted by Line 3 would decrease during the forecast period.
Line 3 starts in Alberta and clips a corner of North Dakota before crossing northern Minnesota en route to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. Replacement sections in Canada and Wisconsin are already in service.
The project has been politically sensitive for the Democratic governor’s administration at a time when Republicans who control the Minnesota Senate have been flexing their political muscles. Republicans generally back the project while Democrats have been split.
Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley is expected to face questions about Line 3 at a Senate confirmation hearing Friday.