The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday issued a construction permit for Enbridge's new pipeline across northern Minnesota, the last major approval needed for the controversial $2.6 billion project.
The Corps decision paves the way for Calgary-based Enbridge to begin building the pipeline as early as next month. It will be one of the largest Minnesota construction projects in recent history and is expected to employ 4,000 workers.
"This decision is based on balancing development with protecting the environment," Col. Karl Jansen, St Paul District commander, said in a statement. "Our decision follows an exhaustive review of the application and the potential impacts associated with the construction of the pipeline within federally protected waters."
The Corps' blessing was expected after the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) this month approved related construction permits for the pipeline, a replacement for Enbridge's current Line 3.
The federal permit, issued by the Army Corps' St. Paul district, covers construction impacts to myriad water bodies in Minnesota. The pipeline will ferry heavy Canadian oil across northern Minnesota to Enbridge's terminal in Superior, Wis.
The 340-mile new pipeline will cross 212 streams and will affect more than 700 acres of wetlands in Minnesota — the reason many environmental groups have fought the project throughout the regulatory process.
"Enbridge has now received all remaining federal permits required for replacing Line 3, an essential maintenance project," the Calgary-based company said in a statement.
The MPCA must still grant a stormwater drainage permit to Enbridge, a more routine approval that's expected in the coming weeks. Enbridge is also waiting on a final construction authorization from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which already has approved the project.
"We are prepared to start construction as soon as these are in hand," Enbridge said.
The Army Corps was waiting for the MPCA to act on the more sweeping pollution permits before making its decision. The MPCA two weeks ago granted water quality permits related to Line 3 construction.
The pipeline has been winding through the Minnesota regulatory process for six years. The PUC, the state's primary regulator of pipelines, approved the pipeline in February for the second time after a court sent it back to the panel for changes in the project's environmental impact statement.
Environmental groups and Indian bands opposing Line 3 have already appealed the PUC's decision to a state appellate court, and petitions to overturn the Corps' permits may be in the offing, too.
"It's tragic but it's not a surprise that the Trump administration would approve these permits regardless of the water quality impacts from the pipeline, and during a time when a pandemic is sweeping across the North Country with workers already here," Winona LaDuke, head of Indigenous environmental group Honor the Earth, said in a statement. "The tribes and others will surely sue and we will see them in court."
Environmental groups and some Indian bands have said the pipeline — which follows a new route — will open a new region of pristine waters to the prospect of oil spills, as well as exacerbate climate change by allowing for more oil production.
Enbridge has said the new pipeline is a critical safety enhancement. The current Line 3 is so corroded it's running at only half capacity. The new pipeline would restore full oil flow.
Jansen said the Army Corps staff consulted all parties on Line 3, working "deliberately and extensively with our federal and state partners, federally recognized tribes, environmental organizations and the applicant."