The Potluck

Minnesota appeals court affirms decision to issue key Line 3 permit

By: - August 30, 2021 2:18 pm

An Enbridge sign in St. Ignace, Michigan. The company is building the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. (Photo by Susan J. Demas/Michigan Advance)

The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the state Pollution Control Agency’s decision to issue a key water quality permit for the Line 3 oil pipeline Monday, in a victory for energy company Enbridge and a blow to project opponents.

The White Earth Nation, the Red Lake Nation and several environmental groups had challenged the MPCA’s 401 certification — which governs compliance with water quality standards — in hopes the court would block construction on the 337-mile pipeline. The pipeline is 90% complete and expected to carry oil by the end of the year.

In the appeal, the tribes and environmental groups argued that the MPCA erred in issuing the certification for a number of reasons, including the fact that the agency didn’t consider potential pipeline routes outside the one that had already been approved.

“We conclude that the MPCA’s section 401 certification is not affected by legal error and is supported by substantial evidence in the record,” Judge Tracy Smith wrote in the appeals court opinion.

The decision is the third legal blow to pipeline opponents so far this year. In June, the state appeals court upheld the state Public Utilities Commission’s decision to issue another permit for the project. Last week, the Minnesota Supreme Court declined to take the case.

“Once again the courts have failed the Anishinaabe and its treaties, the people of Minnesota and the protection of our mutually shared natural resources,” said Paul Blackburn, attorney for Indigenous environmental group Honor the Earth, in a statement.

Two legal challenges — one in federal court over a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit, and a first-of-its-kind “rights of nature” lawsuit in tribal court naming wild rice as a plaintiff — are still ongoing.

With the pipeline nearing completion, project opponents held a series of demonstrations in St. Paul last week urging Gov. Tim Walz and President Joe Biden to stop the project, including a rally at the state Capitol that drew nearly 2,000 people. Nearly 70 people were arrested during a protest outside the governor’s mansion Saturday.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.