On Thursday, June 28, opponents of the proposed Line 3 pipeline received the news they had been dreading: The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), in a 5–0 vote, approved the project's certificate of need.
The commissioners were quick to point out that they didn't come to the decision lightly. Deliberation on the route selection took the rest of the day. The final decision by a 3–2 vote approved a new route that passes between the District II communities of Minisinaakwaang (East Lake), Sandy Lake, and Minnewawa.
The route proposed by Enbridge Energy, a Canadian pipeline company, transports oil from Alberta's tar sands through the Sandy Lake and Rice Lake watersheds, home to some of the most productive wild rice beds on earth and the Anishinaabe communities that have relied on that rice for generations.
Opponents have vowed to keep fighting. Brent Murcia, of the group Youth Climate Intervenors, said, “We will not let this stand.”
Gov. Mark Dayton said that even with the certificate of need, Enbridge has many more hoops to jump through before construction can start in the state.
“Many people hold passionate views on this project. I urge everyone to express themselves peacefully. The PUC’s decision is not the final approval of this pipeline. Rather, it only allows Enbridge to begin to apply for at least 29 required federal, state, and local permits.
“Those regulatory reviews, which address numerous issues not considered by the PUC, will take several months. Approvals are by no means assured, and they would require any such project to meet Minnesota’s highest standards, protecting all our state's earth, air, water, natural resources, and cultural heritage. I assure that state agencies will fully uphold those high standards, as they review these applications. Construction cannot and will not begin, unless Enbridge receives all required permit approvals.”
PUC Commissioners were visibly emotional during the hearing but said their hands were tied. “Sometimes we have to make decisions we don’t aspirationally agree with, because of the rule of law,” Commissioner John Tuma said.
PUC Chair Nancy Lange said she could not live with the possibility of the old pipeline leaking if it were to remain in the ground.
Commissioner Dan Lipschultz said the oil delivered by Line 3 is needed to meet state transportation needs. “It’s addressing demand so that pipelines aren’t needed anymore,” he said. “At some point demand is going to go down permanently. We aren’t there yet.”
Enbridge proposed a new corridor because the old Line 3 passes through Leech Lake and Fond du Lac Reservations, and both tribes were opposed to a new pipeline on reservation lands.
Although the new corridor avoids reservations, it does pass through areas where Band members harvest rice, fish, and game. The state of Minnesota does not recognize off-reservation treaty rights in the corridor, but many Band members believe those rights are guaranteed under federal treaties.
Furthermore, the new corridor passes within miles of the Mississippi headwaters, creating a new contamination threat to virtually everyone downstream on the river.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce argued that the pipeline is not needed due to declining demand for oil and petroleum products.
Among the groups that spoke out forcefully against the PUC decision were the Sierra Club, the Minnesota Council of Churches, MN350, the Northern Water Alliance, Youth Climate Intervenors, and Honor the Earth.