With this week’s federal re-approval of the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion triggering outrage and likely legal action across the country, two other pending pipelines—Line 3 through Minnesota, and Line 5 through Michigan—were running into new regulatory and political roadblocks south of the Canada-U.S. border.
Opponents of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline expansion were breathing a bit easier this week, after two Minnesota state agencies said their respective permits for the project will be delayed until the state utility commission addresses an appeal court’s objections to its environmental impact statement—a process that could take at least six months.
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Though the Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected most plaintiff objections to Line 3—including the risks to the pristine Mississippi headwaters region through which it would pass, as well as its climate impacts—it ruled that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC)’s environmental impact statement failed to address the impacts of an oil spill in the watershed of Lake Superior, reports Minnesota Public Radio News.
Both the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) have now said their own permitting processes will have to “slow down a little bit” as they wait for PUC to address the appeal court’s objections, and secure final approval for Line 3.
Noting that the PUC “has not yet scheduled a hearing on the matter, nor has it announced a schedule moving forward,” MPR News says lawyers involved in the case estimate that producing the new environmental review “would likely take about six months.”
In an added twist, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, “which completed the initial environmental impact statement for the pipeline, [and will] likely be called upon again to provide the new analysis,” has itself filed an appeal against the PUC’s approval of Line 3, arguing  that Enbridge failed to provide “legally adequate demand forecasts to establish the need for the project.”
And there will be a further spillover effect in permit issuance: until the MPCA issues its water quality certification permit, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be unable to produce its own federal wetlands permit.
With the MPCA now indicating that it will be unable to release a draft permit on July 1, as it previously planned, the October 30 deadline for the final federal permit is beginning to swing into view.
While “Enbridge declined to speculate on what the permitting delay could mean for its construction timeline,” reports MPR, the company had previously expressed confidence that it would have all state permits by November, federal permits shortly thereafter, and shovels in the ground by early 2020.
Frank Bibeau, attorney for Indigenous-led Honor the Earth, welcomed the new developments. “At a minimum, it creates a delay in the process,” he said, while reflecting the appeal court’s judgement that Line 3 could not go forward without further attention to impacts on Lake Superior.
“Enbridge, as well as pipeline opponents, could choose to appeal the Minnesota Court of Appeals decision on the adequacy of the environmental review,” writes MPRNews. The deadline for an appeal is July 3.
The Calgary-based fossil is also on the defensive in Michigan , where its recent ratcheting up of its Line 5 tunnel publicity campaign, aided by the industry-friendly Consumer Energy Alliance, is being seen by climate and clean water activists as evidence that the company knows it is losing traction at the political level.