ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on Friday denied a key water permit to Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 oil pipeline, requiring the Canadian oil company to satisfy several additional requirements before it can reapply for the permit.
The agency issued a “denial without prejudice” for the proposed 340-mile long pipeline’s 401 certification, a permit awarded by a state’s regulators if the project’s impact on water falls within the state’s standards. Federal agencies cannot issue a federal permit or license without a state approving the 401 certification.
In a news release Friday, Sept. 27, the agency said it needs more information in three areas: “oil spill response modeling in the Lake Superior Watershed, a pre- and post-construction monitoring plan for aquatic resources, and a revised proposal for mitigating more than 400 acres of forested wetlands that will be impacted during construction.”
“The MPCA informed the company that additional information is needed to determine if the Line 3 project would comply with state water quality standards,” the MPCA said. “The MPCA’s denial without prejudice does not prevent Enbridge from reapplying for 401 Certification in the future with the additional information required”
The MPCA’s decision comes just days before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday, Oct. 1, will take up environmental impact statement for the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement project and consider what additional hearings might be needed to revise the statement.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals in June ruled the environmental review of the proposed pipeline project was "inadequate" because it did not consider the effects of an oil spill in Lake Superior’s watershed. But the court said many other points disputed in the final environmental impact statement, including the pipeline’s impact on tribal resources, met required standards.
Tribal and environmental groups asked the state Supreme Court to review the other disputed points, but the court last week denied the request to take up the case. The move sends the proposal back to state regulators at the Public Utilities Commission for revisions.
An Enbridge spokeswoman said the company expected the denial, as state regulators are still working on the project's environmental impact statement. She said she anticipated the news would have minimal impact on Enbridge's timeline for hiring and obtaining additional permits.
"Enbridge is addressing the identified items, continues to work with the MPCA, and anticipates submitting an updated and revised 401 application in the near future," spokeswoman Juli Kellner said. "We don’t expect today’s action by MPCA will impact the project’s status or timeline."
Conservation groups were quick to applaud the MPCA's denial, saying the pipeline could pose a threat to bodies of water and wetlands it would cross.
"Today's decision shows that the MPCA is taking their role of protecting Minnesota's waters and communities seriously," Sierra Club North Star Chapter Director Margaret Levin said. "We expect that state leaders will continue to follow the science — and that the science will lead to a full rejection of this pipeline."
Enbridge applied for the 401 certification on Oct. 30, 2018, and the MPCA must approve or deny the permit within one year.
Such a denial is rare for the agency. In an April interview, Darin Broton, MPCA spokesperson, said the MPCA has only denied one 401 certification “in recent memory” when in 2012 it denied Northshore Mining its certification.
But Broton said at the time that it “wasn’t a true denial” because the MPCA requested more information near the end of the one-year period, requiring a cancellation and resubmission to meet the Clean Water Act’s timeline.
The Public Utilities Commission in 2018 approved the $2.6 billion Line 3 that would replace Enbridge's existing 50-year-old Line 3 and carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta to the Enbridge terminal in Superior, Wis.
Abby Loucks with Minnesotans for Line 3 said the decision highlights the complexity of the permitting process for the pipeline project.
"We are hopeful that the PUC will take steps to keep things moving when it meets next week," Loucks said.