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Minnesota regulators approve environmental permits for Enbridge pipeline

The DNR and the MPCA both granted permits for the controversial Line 3 replacement project Thursday.
Credit: AP
FILE - In this June 29, 2018 file photo, pipeline used to carry crude oil lays at the Superior terminal of Enbridge Energy in Superior, Wis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

ST PAUL, Minn — Two Minnesota regulators granted permits for the controversial Enbridge Line 3 project Thursday.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said Thursday it has granted all DNR permits, licenses and approvals needed for the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement project. 

The same day, MPCA announced it had approved permits relating to wastewater and water and air quality -- including, it said in a statement, its "most stringent" 401 water quality certification to date.

Even with today’s permitting decision, MPCA said Enbridge cannot begin construction until the MCPA approves Enbridge’s construction stormwater permit, which requires the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue a Section 404 permit.

The $2.6 billion project is a six-year controversy in Minnesota. The new pipeline would replace Enbridge's Line 3, which was built in the 1960s. Enbridge said the old line needs replacing because it is increasingly prone to corrosion and cracking and can run at only about half its original capacity, the Associated Press reported earlier this year. 

Line 3 starts in Alberta and goes through a corner of North Dakota before crossing northern Minnesota on the way to Enbridge's terminal in Superior, Wisconsin.  

According to the Associated Press, opponents argue that the Canadian tar sands oil the replacement pipeline would carry aggravates climate change. They also argue that spills could endanger sensitive waters and wetlands in the Mississippi River headwaters region, where Native Americans harvest wild rice and claim treaty rights.  

Minnesota climate justice group MN350 criticized the Walz administration for the decisions. 

“This is a deeply unpopular pipeline that is a disaster for our climate, and it will be fought every step of the way," one of the group's coordinators, Andy Pearson, wrote in a statement. "The climate justice movement will still stop the pipeline, but the governor has made that unnecessarily harder.”

Minnesota House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, however, praised the decision: "These permits bring us one step closer to finally replacing the aging Line 3 pipeline after years of frivolous lawsuits and delays. We’re thrilled for the northern Minnesota communities and families who will see strong paychecks and robust investment once construction finally begins," he wrote.

MPCA's requirements for the project include opportunities for public commentary, stream and wetland mitigations, and seasonal and chemical restrictions meant to protect wild rice waters.

Two of the 10 DNR decisions were granted in October, and DNR announced the remaining eight were granted Thursday.

The DNR said it considered state laws, input and the "administrative record." Its decisions include conditions on things like construction activity, natural resource protection and water removal.

One of the permits is the Threatened and Endangered Species Taking Permit. It requires over $2.5 million in "compensatory mitigation" for takings affecting nine plant species. DNR said these funds will be used for research, conservation planning, surveys, land protection and/or land management activities for the recovery of these species.

The DNR previously issued permits/approvals for the Gully 30 Fen Calcareous Fen Management Plan and the Gully 30 Fen Water Appropriation Permit.

DNR said Enbridge has also requested short- and long-term leases on state land for construction and ongoing operation and maintenance. The DNR said it is making these lease decisions "in conjunction with the associated permit/approval decisions."

The DNR's role in the controversial project is regulatory, it said. It focuses on avoiding or minimizing negative impact from the pipeline's construction, operation and maintenance.

Additional details about the proposed project will be available on the DNR website.