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Minn. Public Utilities Commission says Enbridge Line 3 review needs more work

A tanker truck passes by an Enbridge storage tank near Berthold, N.D. Michael Vosburg/Forum News Service

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission tapped the brakes on the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline permitting process on Thursday, Dec. 8, saying the massive environmental review for the project is still missing a few fine points.

With a 4-1 vote after a daylong meeting, the PUC instructed the Department of Commerce and other agencies to refine three technical areas of the final environmental impact statement and to ensure a tribal cultural resource survey is complete before construction begins.

The move will likely affect the timing of a final PUC decision on the pipeline, which will follow an administrative law judge's report and recommendation due this spring.

Enbridge is seeking the state's permission to replace its 50-year-old Line 3 with a new line that would carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day between Alberta and the company's terminal in Superior.

The Sierra Club called Thursday's vote a victory as the PUC did find inadequacies in the review just as pipeline opponents had hoped, although Honor the Earth said it plans further legal action, saying the commission failed to go far enough.

"We are deeply disappointed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission's approval of a profoundly flawed environmental impact statement. Honor the Earth will challenge this decision in court," the group's executive director, Winona LaDuke, said in a news release.

Enbridge claimed its own victory as it said the PUC generally approved of the environmental impact statement just as an administrative law judge had recommended.

"This decision does confirm that the FEIS addresses the potentially significant issues and alternatives raised in scoping and provides responses to the substantive comments received," Enbridge spokeswoman Shannon Gustafson said in a news release. "Our focus will continue to be on following the process, ensuring adequate public input and, in turn, we believe that the state will adhere to a reliable timeline."

The state has 60 days to turn in its amended review, which needs to better address topography, drinking water impacts and the additive nature of environmental impacts.

Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

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