The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission fully approved the certificate of need for the contentious Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline at a meeting in St. Paul on Monday morning.
While the project still has to obtain a number of permits before construction on the proposed 340-mile long pipeline across Northern Minnesota can begin, the five-member PUC unanimously approved the final compliance filings it requested after issuing the certificate of need earlier this summer.
Dozens of supporters and opponents packed the hearing room and an overflow area at the state Senate Office Building where the hearing was held. Pipeline supporters donned bright green T-shirts and hats emblazoned with the phrase, “Go Line 3.” Opponents meanwhile wore T-shirts and stickers showing recent headlines noting the adverse impacts of climate change.
In late June, the PUC requested Enbridge make additional compliance filings on the parental guarantee for environmental damages, landowner choice program, decommissioning trust fund, neutral footprint program, and general liability and environmental impairment liability insurance.
The PUC approved all of the compliance filings, including the liability insurance, which critics of the project, including the Minnesota Department of Commerce, argued wasn’t designed to cover an oil spill.
Earlier in the meeting, the PUC unanimously rejected a motion by Honor the Earth, a Native American-led environmental group, calling on the PUC to make the insurance terms public, but commissioners maintained that it contained trade secrets and was not public.
PUC denies reconsideration hearing
On Monday, the PUC also quickly and unanimously rejected requests by the Department of Commerce, environmental groups and Native American tribes asking the PUC to reconsider it’s June decision to grant the project a certificate of need.
Commerce argued that the PUC did not base their decision to approve Line 3's certificate of need on future demand for crude oil and instead largely based it on the safety and integrity of the existing Line 3 while environmental groups said the pipeline’s harm to society outweighed its benefits.
Before making a motion to deny those permits, Commissioner Dan Lipshultz reaffirmed the PUC’s June decision.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, I think we all know that, but it was the right decision based on the record and the applicable law,” Lipshultz said before making a motion to deny the petitions. “I haven’t seen any new material evidence or new arguments in the petitions for reconsideration that would compel us to change that decision.”
In a statement Monday, Enbridge said the company was looking at the project’s next stages, including construction, after the PUC reaffirmed its June certificate of need decision.
“We are pleased with the civil discussion and orderly meeting today as the MPUC stood by their decision to approve (Line 3)’s Certificate of Need,” Enbridge said in a statement. “Today’s meeting was an expected next step in the regulatory process surrounding the approval of the project”
Protesters briefly interrupt meeting, march to Walz’s office
Monday’s meeting was a continuation of a Sept. 11 meeting cut short after interruptions by pipeline opponents.
While Monday’s meeting at the state Senate Office Building was not shut down, several opponents stood up when the commissioners voted unanimously to reject the effort to reconsider the project.
Four people in the audience stood and chanted, “Line 3 is an immediate climate disaster, so we will stop Line 3,” before leaving the room.
Outside the hearing room, opponents rallied and promised to continue their fight against the pipeline in the courts and in the Statehouse.
“The fight’s not over, it’s just changing venues,” Andy Pearson, an organizer with MN350, a self-described climate justice group, told protesters gathered outside the hearing room. “We’re done with the Public Utilities Commission.”
They took their appeals to Gov.-elect Tim Walz’s office Monday and urged his transition staff members to get involved.
“We’re still here, we want to be included in the dialogue,” Nancy Beaulieu, an indigenous woman and organizer from Bemidji, told transition officers. “We want our treaties to be respected.”
Pearson and Beaulieu were among more than a dozen people who tooks turns sharing their concerns about the pipeline project huddled in the lobby of the transition office.
Randolph Briley, a transition office staffer, told the protesters their advice would be welcome and the door would be open to them.
“We are here, we’re available to meet in the future if you want to set up meetings with us,” Briley said. “We’re here for that. That’s what we do.”
Supporters deliver postcards to Walz office
After the meeting, a group of pipeline supporters also stopped by the Walz’s office to deliver over 1,500 postcards from fellow supporters.
Republican lawmakers and groups supporting the pipeline project expressed support for the commission's decision.
“I applaud the PUC's decision to allow the project to move forward, and it's my hope we can work with the Walz administration to keep the Line 3 replacement on track,” Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said in a statement.
Once completed, the pipeline will carry an estimated 760,000 barrels of oil per day across northern Minnesota on its route from Alberta to the Enbridge terminal in Superior. Enbridge began working three years ago to get the project approved.
Though the company maintains the new pipeline is needed to replace the existing and aging Line 3, opponents argue the line contributes to climate change, violates indigenous rights and is ultimately unnecessary.
Forum News Service Minnesota Capitol correspondent Dana Ferguson contributed to this report.