Court of Appeals reverses and remands PUC decision on Sandpiper Certificate of Need
It’s not every day that the state Court of Appeals issues a unanimous opinion telling the Minnesota Public Utility Commission (PUC) it “erred” in granting a pipeline company a certificate of need. But the Sept 14 ruling revoked the North Dakota Pipeline Company’s (Enbridge and Marathon Oil’s) certificate of need for its Sandpiper pipeline. They cited the PUC’s failure to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement prior to their June 5th decision.
“When certificate of need proceedings precede routing permit proceedings for a large oil pipeline, the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act requires that an environmental impact statement be completed before a final decision is made on the certificate of need,” wrote the judge issuing the opinion.
The Sandpiper is a proposed Enbridge pipeline which would carry fracked Bakken oil from North Dakota to Superior, WI. The company’s preferred route would deviate from Enbridge’s existing pipeline corridor east of Clearbrook, Minnesota. The route is highly controversial as it crosses some of Minnesota’s most pristine waters, including wild rice lakes and the Mississippi headwaters. Plus, the proposed pipeline would run over highly permeable soil. State agencies pointed out many flaws in the company’s preferred route.
MN Center for Environmental Advocacy on behalf of Friends of the Headwaters brought the suit. Rinke Noonan filed an amicus brief on behalf of Carlton County Land Stewards. “We made the environmental argument, we made the science argument, we made the legal argument and we made the economic argument. The PUC overlooked the merits of our case. We are grateful the Court heard us,” said Richard Smith, President of Friends of the Headwaters.
This ruling also complicates another new Enbridge pipeline project, Line 3, which has been referred to the Office of Administrative Hearings by the Commission.
Enbridge Illegal Border Crossing Scheme
Oral arguments were heard in US Federal Court on July 10 on Enbridge’s slight-of-hand scheme to effectively double the volume of tar sands oil across the US- Canada border on the Alberta Clipper pipeline by temporarily switching flow between pipelines at the border crossing. Enbridge lacks an updated Environmental Impact Statement and a Presidential Permit to fully load the line. National and local indigenous, environmental and climate change groups filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of State for his department’s tacit approval of the switching of oil between the Alberta Clipper and another Enbridge pipeline, Line 3, at the international border. The suit cites violations of the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws.
President Obama has said he would make his national interest determination for the Presidential permit for Keystone XL based on whether the pipeline would exacerbate climate change. The State Department needs to apply that same litmus test to the similar sized Alberta Clipper pipeline which carries the same tar sands oil, and will have the same climate change impacts.
We await the judge’s decision.