State utility regulators got an earful Friday morning in an unusual public meeting over Enbridge’s proposed oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.
More than 100 people filled a Minnesota Senate Office Building hearing room Friday, with more watching a video feed in an adjacent room.
Supporters told the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to finish the job it started and again approve a much-studied $2.6 billion pipeline — a replacement for the company’s aging Line 3 — that they say would improve oil transport safety and create thousands of construction jobs.
“We just can’t flip the switch and stop providing fossil fuels,” said Phillip Wallace, a union representative for pipeline construction welders in Minnesota and North Dakota. “Transporting oil through a new state-of-the-art pipeline is the right thing to do.”
Opponents told the four PUC commissioners this was their last chance to stop an environmental fiasco that would worsen climate change and threaten a new region of Minnesota lakes and rivers with a crude-oil spill.
“We are in an unfolding climate catastrophe and climate chaos is one of the biggest risks to water,” said Christy Dolph, a university water resource researcher from Minneapolis. “We need to move away from fossil fuels now.”
The opinions are just as divergent as the first time the PUC took up the pipeline request. The project is back before the panel because the Minnesota Court of Appeals found the project’s environmental impact statement (EIS) to be flawed. After the Minnesota Department of Commerce addressed the concern, the PUC on Friday kicked off hearings on the controversial pipeline that would ferry Canadian oil to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wis.
Ruling expected next week
The PUC is expected to decide next week whether to approve the revised review — and if it is an affirmative vote, whether to reapprove the entire project.
The PUC scheduled an all-day meeting Friday at the Senate Office Building to directly solicit public comments. Not that the public hasn’t had a chance to comment: There have been dozens of public meetings on Line 3, and thousands of written comments have been submitted to the PUC.
But this is the first time the PUC’s commissioners have taken direct testimony from the public, an unusual move. The PUC’s chairwoman has said the meeting was called due to “intense public interest” in the 340-mile pipeline.
Commenters were given 2 minutes to address commissioners.
“You have been given all the information over a long period of time,” said Daniel Olson, a representative for the Laborers union in Minnesota, whose members would help build the new pipeline. “Very simply put, you are here to reaffirm the decisions you made earlier.”
But Mary Theresa Downing of Minneapolis, a pipeline opponent who described herself as a grandmother, said that while “there has been a lot of studies and a lot of meetings, that does mean this is right.”
Ellen Hadley, a retired schoolteacher, sounded a similar note. “Be the climate heroes you need to be,” she told the commissioners.
Scott Peters, auditor and treasurer for Marshall County, likened the PUC’s job to referees in the Super Bowl. Marshall County is one of several northern Minnesota counties that support new Line 3; they host Enbridge’s existing pipelines and count on them for significant tax revenue.
“You need to uphold the decision you made on the field,” Peters said, referring to the PUC’s earlier approvals of Line 3. “It’s under booth review right now.”
The new pipeline would replace Enbridge’s 1960s-vintage Line 3, which is corroding and operating at only 51% capacity due to safety issues.
The PUC in March 2018 unanimously signed off on the project’s environmental impact statement (EIS) and two months later gave final approval by issuing a certificate of need. But in June, the Minnesota Court of Appeals shot down the PUC’s acceptance of the EIS, throwing the project into limbo.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce has since revised the environmental study, analyzing the effects of a potential future oil spill into the Lake Superior watershed — as ordered by the appellate court. It concluded that an oil spill in the Lake Superior watershed would be unlikely to reach the lake itself.
The PUC will vote Monday or Tuesday on whether to approve the revised EIS. The PUC also will consider whether to reissue — on the spot — its previous approvals of the entire project, or to ask for more comments before ultimately deciding on the certificate of need and route permit for a new Line 3.