By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership
This Friday, January 31, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will hold a public comment hearing on the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline replacement. This hearing will inform the PUC’s decision on whether to grant the oil pipeline a Certificate of Need and a Route Permit, both of which are required before the project can begin construction in Minnesota (work has already begun in North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Canada.) The PUC has not had a public hearing on Line 3 since 2014. The proposed pipeline would carry more than 700,000 barrels of oil a day from the Canadian tar sands.
While Enbridge designates the new pipeline as a “replacement” of the existing Line 3, it would have roughly twice the oil capacity and traverse a largely different route through some of Minnesota’s most vulnerable waters.
If this feels like déjà vu, it’s because Enbridge previously won the PUC’s support for the new Line 3 in June 2018. But fortunately, a year later, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that the project’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was inadequate – it didn’t adequately address the considerable danger of a spill into the watershed of Lake Superior. Thanks to the work of environmental advocates, the pipeline was dealt a setback on these grounds, returning to the PUC’s docket.
However, the failure to address the protection of Lake Superior isn’t the only development that the PUC should consider. Over the past two years, more reports from the International Panel on Climate Change have shown that it is ever more critical to rapidly reduce greenhouse emissions in order to protect humanity from the worst impacts of climate change. This means we can’t afford to continue operating our existing fossil-fuel infrastructure, much less build any new pipelines or fossil fuel plants.
Line 3, which would carry some of the most emissions-heavy oil on earth, would be especially detrimental. The greenhouse gases emitted by the oil transported and the pipeline’s operation would be the equivalent of building 45 coal-fired power plants. The emissions reduced by shutting down all coal plants used to generate Minnesota’s electricity would be dwarfed by comparison. The climate impacts of this pipeline far outweigh any benefits it would provide to Minnesota – which does not need and will not receive any of the oil transported through our state by Line 3.
And the water impacts and risks have still not been addressed by the new Line 3 EIS. MEP and our partners sent a letter to the PUC listing concerns about the EIS glossing over the spill risk, especially to the St. Louis River Estuary near Duluth. We hold that the spill risk fundamental to this pipeline route is another reason that the Certificate of Need must be denied.
In their previous decision, the PUC Commissioners argued that they were only allowed to consider the spill and leak risks of the current, aging Line 3, not the long-term impact of doubling its capacity with a replacement. Similarly, Line 3 proponents contend that the safety of the existing pipeline is the overriding concern: that without a new pipeline through Minnesota, the oil will be transported through the old pipeline, or through other states and provinces, or by rail.
This is a false choice, and making it in this deliberately limited way abdicates Minnesota’s responsibility for climate leadership. If we instead deny this pipeline, we may inspire other governments to act similarly; we may signal that fossil fuel infrastructure is an increasingly hazardous investment; we may delay the export of tar sands oil and have a real impact. We may provide an opening to dismantling the Line 3 pipeline entirely. At the very least, we will protect our most vulnerable waters and the communities they serve from harm.
As the PUC continues its deliberations, we urge concerned Minnesotans to take part, and we thank all those who have already spoken up in this long, difficult process. If you’re able, come to the Minnesota Senate Building in St. Paul on January 31 to speak up for a healthy, livable future.