Minnesota public utility regulators Tuesday rejected a judge’s recommendation that would have pushed out their final decision on a controversial crude oil pipeline until September.
Instead, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) moved its decision date on Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 from April or May to sometime in June. The new Line 3, first proposed in 2014, would carry Canadian oil across northern Minnesota to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wis.
A kerfuffle over scheduling arose after the PUC in December rejected the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Line 3. The Commerce Department basically has 60 days to respond to a few narrow concerns brought up by the PUC.
To take into account EIS revisions, environmental groups and Indian tribes opposing the pipeline asked for more time to make their final arguments. Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly essentially agreed, concluding that final arguments could be “flawed, incomplete or inconsistent” if made before the EIS is deemed adequate, according to a PUC filing.
Administrative law judges are appointed in contested cases before the PUC, and the 340-mile long new Line 3 is about as contested as they come. Enbridge says the pipeline is necessary to replace the corroding 1960s-vintage current Line 3. Opponents say Enbridge’s path for the new Line 3 would open a new region of lakes and rivers to degradation from oil spills.
After several rounds of legal briefings and hearings, O’Reilly will write a report on Line 3 that will be weighed heavily by the PUC.
Her report was originally due Feb. 28, which would have meant a PUC final decision by April 30. In late November, the due date for O’Reilly’s report was extended to March 30, likely pushing out the PUC’s verdict to May.
But under O’Reilly’s new schedule, the due date would be extended to mid-July, meaning the PUC couldn’t make a final decision until Sept. 6 at the earliest, a PUC filing says. Commissioners said Tuesday that such a timeline would fly in the face of previous PUC decisions on Line 3.
“I believe it is in direct conflict with what the commission established,” said Nancy Lange, PUC chairwoman.
The PUC voted 5-0 Tuesday that O’Reilly issue her report on April 23, which will likely kick out the final judgment on Line 3 until mid-June.
Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge and its supporters — oil shippers and construction labor unions — argued that delays hurt them. Enbridge is currently rationing space on its Minnesota pipeline system due to high demand, meaning its customers can’t ship all the oil they want.
Further delay “means continued impacts on our shippers and the regional economy, and it means delaying jobs and economic stimulus,” Eric Swanson, an attorney for Enbridge, told the PUC. The $2.6 billion pipeline project is expected to create around 4,500 construction jobs at its peak.
Pipeline opponents argued that O’Reilly properly extended the schedule as a matter of due process.
The public’s interest in getting more information from a revised EIS should come before Enbridge’s concerns about delays, Brent Murcia, a member of the environmental group Youth Climate Intervenors, told the PUC.
“Taking longer to make a decision isn’t an unreasonable delay, it’s a more thorough process,” he said.