ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday affirmed state regulators’ key approvals of Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project, in a dispute that drew over 1,000 protesters to northern Minnesota last week.
A three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that the state’s independent Public Utilities Commission correctly granted Enbridge the certificate of need and route permit that the Canadian-based company needed to begin construction on the 337-mile (542-kilometer) Minnesota segment of a larger project to replace a 1960s-era crude oil pipeline that has deteriorated and can run at only half capacity.
Pipeline opponents said they are considering an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, but that their main focus is trying to persuade President Joe Biden to intervene and the continuing protests. The Biden administration hasn’t taken a clear position on Line 3, but a legal challenge is pending in federal court on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of a wetlands permit that activists say should be withdrawn.
Tribal and climate change groups, plus the state Department of Commerce, had asked the appeals court to reject the approvals. They argued that Enbridge’s oil demand projections failed to meet the legal requirements. But the court said there was reasonable evidence to support the PUC’s decision.
“With an existing, deteriorating pipeline carrying crude oil through Minnesota, there was no option without environmental consequences,” wrote Judge Lucinda Jesson, joined by Judge Michael Kirk. “The challenge: to balance those harms. There was no option without impacts on the rights of Indigenous peoples. The challenge: to alleviate those harms to the extent possible. And there was no crystal ball to forecast demand for crude oil in this ever-changing environment.”
But Judge Peter Reyes dissented, agreeing with opponents that the oil demand forecast was flawed. He said the project benefits Canadian oil producers but would have negative consequences for the hunting, fishing, and other rights of the Red Lake and White Earth tribes, and would provide no benefit to Minnesota.