ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Monday, Feb. 3, accepted the revised environmental review for Enbridge's proposed Line 3 oil pipeline.
In a 3-1 vote in St. Paul, the PUC voted the review was "adequate." The PUC must still consider the pipeline's certificate of need and route permit Monday afternoon and Tuesday.
The supplemental study was required after the Minnesota Court of Appeals in June said the company's proposal was inadequate because it did not consider an oil spill's impact on Lake Superior and its watershed.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce released a supplement to the proposed $2.9 billion pipeline project's environmental impact statement that said an oil spill along the proposed Enbridge Line 3 replacement line would have minimal impacts on Spirit Lake and the Lake Superior watershed, but environmental groups have questioned that modeling.
Opponents of the pipeline argued the supplemental study considered an oil spill at only one water crossing, Little Otter Creek, in the Lake Superior watershed and that there are water crossings closer to Lake Superior that should have been examined.
Louise Miltich of the Minnesota Department of Commerce defended the supplemental study.
She told the PUC that the Court of Appeals only ordered more information on the impacts to Lake Superior, which was satisfied by studying the impact of a potential spill on Little Otter Creek. The creek flows into the St. Louis River, which in turn flows into Lake Superior.
“There is just one remaining issue and it’s about fixing a very specific gap,” Miltich said of the court’s order to study the impact of an oil spill on Lake Superior’s watershed.
During comments ahead of the vote, Scott Strand, an attorney for Friends of the Headwaters, said the Little Otter Creek site was too far east for a true assessment of the impacts on Lake Superior.
“You have to look at the other water crossings,” Strand said to PUC members.
Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth, a native-led environmental group, urged the PUC to study the impact of a spill on a “more broad scale.”
“Looking at Little Otter Creek was entirely inadequate,” LaDuke said.
Commissioner Matthew Schuerger, the only PUC member to vote against the supplemental study, sided with opponents.
“I disagree that this (final environmental impact statement) is adequate,” Schuerger said, adding that he believes the record and law did not support using just a single site in the Lake Superior watershed to model a spill’s effect on the entire watershed.
Commissioners John Tuma, Valerie Means and PUC Chair Katie Sieben all voted in favor of deeming the environmental review “adequate.”
“I, myself, find the analysis sufficient,” Sieben said. She added that the modeling of a spill on Little Otter Creek was similar to other points along the route that were analyzed outside the watershed.
The PUC is typically a five-member panel; however, former PUC Vice Chair Dan Lipshultz’s term ended last month. Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, is considering candidates to fill that vacancy.
Enbridge's proposed pipeline would carry 760,000 barrels of oil (31,920,000 gallons) per day from Alberta, Canada, to the Enbridge terminal in Superior, Wis.