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Minn. court overturns environmental approval of Enbridge pipeline project

The Minnesota Court of Appeals deemed an environmental review for Enbridge Inc.'s Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project "inadequate," reversing the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission's approval of the assessment.

"The commission acted in a manner unsupported by substantial evidence and arbitrary and capricious when it determined the [final environmental impact statement] adequate despite its failure to address the issue — raised during scoping and in public comments on the [draft environmental impact statement] — of how an oil spill from Enbridge's Line 3 project would impact Lake Superior and its watershed," Judge James Florey wrote in his June 3 opinion concurring with the court's decision.

Still, Florey added that the court rejected most of the "assertions of error" by opponents of the pipeline, which include Native American tribes, the Minnesota Department of Commerce and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, which are concerned about impacts to water sources and the tribes' way of life.

The state Public Utilities Commission voted 5-0 in June 2018 to issue a certificate to Enbridge for the Line 3 replacement. A March 2019 decision not to reconsider that approval allowed the case to move to court.

The Minnesota portion of the pipeline replacement project is part of a nearly completed C$9 billion expansion that has already replaced the line in Canada and Wisconsin in its existing right of way with larger-diameter pipe. The last leg of the project will go through North Dakota and along a new right of way in Minnesota. The project is designed to restore the capacity of the original pipeline to about 720,000 barrels per day, roughly double the current throughput. The company had originally expected to start construction on the last part in early summer 2019 and to complete the leg through Minnesota before the end of the year, but it was informed that state construction permits would not be issued until November, pushing the schedule back by a year.