State regulators approved for environmental review a proposed pipeline that would ferry carbon dioxide from an ethanol plant outside Fergus Falls some 20 miles to the North Dakota border.

But that review will not encompass — at least for now — potential future Minnesota-crossing legs of the massive multistate pipeline envisioned by Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solutions, according to a unanimous 4-0 vote by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

The PUC also will not wait for other states considering permits for the so-called Midwest Carbon Express, such as North Dakota, whose regulators denied the company a permit at the beginning of August. Summit Carbon has requested a reconsideration of its request after making routing changes near Bismarck.

"There were routing concerns about the city of Bismarck," said Christina Brusven, attorney for Summit. "And they are very local [and] specific to that community."

In documents filed with the PUC, environmental advocacy groups, including CURE (Clean Up the River Environment), had asked for a stay on any review until the project demonstrated "some proof" that it was viable in North Dakota.

"There's the real possibility ... that this will be denied outright," Sarah Mooradian, government relations and policy director with CURE, told the commission on Thursday.

But Brusven responded that North Dakota's regulatory review takes a fraction of the time such reviews take in Minnesota. When pressed by Commissioner John Tuma whether the company would construct an expensive pipeline if North Dakota ultimately rejects a permit application to store the carbon, Summit's attorney did not mince words.

"If there's no place to put it [CO2]," Brusven said, "we wouldn't be building here."

The commission on Thursday also approved route alternatives, including two proposed by CURE, and regulators also approved studying a possible pipeline rupture. The environmental impact study will also consider broadly whether other technologies, such as electric vehicles, might accomplish the same greenhouse gas goals as pipelines.

Proponents argue carbon scores will improve the fuel additive's standing in markets, such as California, adopting low-carbon fuel standards. While Summit's attorney didn't openly oppose staff's description of the project's scope, the company had suggested such an investigation was beyond the commission's scope.

Amelia Vohs, attorney with Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, countered, "I do think there are a lot of questions and concerns about the climate consequences of pipelines like these."

For now, Summit's pipeline is slated to run from Green Plains ethanol plant in Otter Tail County west through Wilkin County to the Red River and into North Dakota. Thursday's vote comes nearly a year after Summit filed the application for a route permit and months after four public hearings, which churned out some 500 comments.

The environmental study will consider everything from the pipeline's potential effects on the airshed to soils and wildlife, as well as potential archaeological and cultural intrusions.

Landowners, environmental groups and at least four tribal nations have filed comments expressing concerns about the pipeline. But such carbon sequestration technologies are increasingly endorsed by biofuels proponents, who say the industry's future sustainability is dependent on reining in greenhouse gas emissions.