The Potluck

Minnesota court denies tribes’ request to halt Line 3 pipeline construction

By: - February 3, 2021 12:03 pm

Construction on the Line 3 replacement pipeline was underway near Palisade on Jan. 5, 2021. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Tuesday denied a request from two Minnesota tribes to stop construction on Enbridge’s controversial Line 3 oil pipeline in northern Minnesota.

The Red Lake and White Earth nations had asked the court to halt construction while legal challenges to the pipeline are pending. Allowing construction to continue for months would cause irreparable harm, the tribes argued, even if the court eventually decides in their favor and blocks the project.

“We are disappointed that the court lacked empathy for Ojibwe people, and that the court did not understand the ramifications of the destruction of Enbridge’s Line 3 in the north,” said Winona LaDuke, director of the Indigenous environmental group Honor the Earth. “We’re just incredibly disappointed.”

This was the third time the tribes’ requests to stop construction had been denied. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission — which issued key approvals for the project — denied a motion to halt building in December and, weeks later, denied an appeal of that decision.

The court upheld the Public Utilities Commission’s denials. The commission determined that the “potential harms” of granting the stay would be “greater than the potential harms of denying it” because of the risks of continuing to operate the existing Line 3, according to court documents.

In a statement, Enbridge said it is “pleased with the decision from the Minnesota Court of Appeals, but not surprised.” 

“The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) review of the Line 3 Replacement Project was thorough and exhaustive – from the Environmental Impact Statement to the certificate of need and route permit,” the statement said.

Construction on Line 3 started in December, following six years of state review, permitting and litigation. Once complete, the pipeline will stretch more than 300 miles across northern Minnesota, carrying nearly 32 million gallons of crude oil each day from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin.

Enbridge and pipeline supporters say the new line is necessary to replace the existing Line 3 — which was built in the 1960s and requires increasingly intensive repairs and upkeep each year — and to meet demand for oil across the country. The project has also created jobs for roughly 5,000 welders, equipment operators and laborers, half of them Minnesotans.

Opponents say the pipeline will eventually leak and contaminate Minnesota’s forests and waters with crude oil. The cultural significance of these lands and the wild rice beds near the pipeline makes the risk intolerable for Native people, who say the project also violates their treaty rights.

The Red Lake Nation and White Earth Nation, along with environmental nonprofits, have filed lawsuits in state court that challenge permits and approvals from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Public Utilities Commission. The tribes have also sued in federal court over a water quality permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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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.