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Regulators approve environmental review for Line 3 pipeline

Supporters of Enbridge Energy's proposal to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota parked a truck near the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, carrying pipeline segments signed by people who back the project. They contend that replacing the aging pipeline with new pipe will provide the safest way to carry Line 3's oil from Alberta to Enbridge's terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)

Minnesota utility regulators on Monday approved a revised environmental review for Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across the state.

The state Public Utilities Commission voted 3-1 to approve the environmental impact statement for the $2.6 billion project, saying the new review adequately addressed the impacts of a potential spill in the Lake Superior watershed.

Commissioner Matt Schuerger disagreed with the majority, saying the updated review “doesn’t adequately represent the consequences of a spill,” the Star Tribune reported.

But commissioner Valerie Means, who was not on the board in 2018 when the commission originally approved an environmental impact statement for the project, said she believes “there has been a sufficient evaluation.”

Chairwoman Katie Sieben and commissioner John Tuma both also voted to approve the revised environmental impact statement.

After approving the updated environmental review, the commissioners then began hearing from Enbridge and groups that have official standing in the case on whether to reissue the certificate of need and the separate route permit that the project needs to move forward.

The new pipeline would replace Enbridge’s Line 3, which was built in the 1960s. Enbridge, based in Calgary, Alberta, says the old line needs to be replaced because it is increasingly prone to corrosion and cracking and can run at only about half its original capacity. Environmental and tribal activists have urged regulators to kill the project.

The commission approved an environmental review in March 2018. But the Minnesota Court of Appeals sent the previous final version of the project’s environmental review back to the commission after finding that the massive document failed to adequately deal with the potential risks of an oil spill in the Lake Superior watershed. The state Department of Commerce then conducted additional modeling and concluded in the update that there was little chance of a spill reaching the lake.

During a public hearing Friday, environmental and tribal activists argued against the project, saying climate change has reached a crisis stage. But the project’s supporters, including union construction workers, testified it’s time to let project move forward.

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. Enbridge said in a filing ahead of Friday’s hearing that the record continues to show the project is needed.