U.S. judge rejects latest Enbridge Line 3 challenge

A federal judge has dismissed claims by environmental groups and Ojibwa bands that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to conduct an adequate review of Enbridge’s Line 3.

The controversial 340-mile pipeline through Minnesota opened a year ago, but a lawsuit challenging it had yet to be concluded – until Friday.

“The court finds that the Corps has complied with its obligations to assess the environmental consequences associated with its permits for Enbridge,” wrote Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the state’s primary pipeline regulator, approved Line 3 in early 2020. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) approved a permit of state water later that year.

Opponents of the pipeline have appealed these decisions. But state courts dismissed their challenges in 2021, when the pipeline was under construction.

“Like Minnesota state government regulators, agencies, our courts, and would-be rulers, the federal court has again let down Indians and Minnesota’s most pristine waterways and landscapes,” he said. writes Winona LaDuke, leader of the indigenous environmental group Honor the Earth, in a statement.

Enbridge, in a statement, said it was satisfied with the court’s latest decision. The company said the decision “acknowledges the thorough, inclusive, and science-based review of the Line 3 replacement project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.” He also cited public participation and tribal consultation.

The new Line 3 replaced a 1960s Enbridge pipeline that was corroding and operating at only 50% capacity due to safety issues. The pipeline carries a particularly viscous Canadian oil to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin.

Opponents of the pipeline say the new Line 3, which partly follows a new route, has opened up a new region of Minnesota’s lakes, streams and wild rice waters to degradation by oil spills, as well as to worsening climate change.

The Army Corps issued its Water and Wetland Permit for Pipeline Construction in November 2020, allowing Enbridge to drill under rivers and offload dredged material.

Soon after, the Corps was sued by the Red Lake and White Earth gangs and three environmental groups: Honor the Earth, Friends of the Headwaters, and the Sierra Club.

They claimed the Corps had failed to properly assess the pipeline’s impact on climate change and that the agency should have conducted its own Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Line 3 – instead of relying on an EIS carried out by the State.

Their lawsuit also alleged that the Corps failed to fully assess the impacts of Line 3 on the tribes’ treaty rights to hunt, gather and fish.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly rejected all of these claims.

She agreed with the Corps’ argument that it only regulates the construction of the pipeline and therefore has no jurisdiction over the effects of climate change caused by the operation of Line 3.

The Corps has consulted with tribes and considered the PUC’s comments on environmental justice, she wrote.

And the Corps did not need to repeat the state’s EIS, she wrote. “Corps regulations explicitly direct the District Engineer ‘where possible, to incorporate by reference and rely on reviews from other federal and state agencies,'” the judge wrote.

The Corps permit was the last approval Enbridge needed before beginning construction at the end of 2020. This federal permit was closely tied to a water and wetlands permit granted by the MPCA, also at the end of 2020. .

The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the MPCA license in August 2021. Two months earlier, that same court – in a 2-1 opinion from a three-judge panel – also upheld the PUC’s approval.

The Minnesota Supreme Court denied a motion by opponents of the pipeline further challenging the PUC’s decision.

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