June 20–Commissioners deciding whether to approve a proposed 340-mile oil pipeline across the state of Minnesota expressed frustration during a second day of hearings in St. Paul Tuesday.
Several of the five members on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission said they weren’t ready to grant a certificate of need to Enbridge Energy for its proposed Line 3 pipeline replacement project, which would allow the Calgary-based company to carry more oil between Alberta and the company’s terminal in Superior. The vote on a certificate of need is expected next week after more hearings and deliberations.
Commissioner John Tuma, the lone republican on the PUC, said he doesn’t support granting a certificate of need to Enbridge at the moment. It’s not “in my brain right now,” he said, but added that could change in the next week.
“I’m not very comfortable with that burden of proof. … I think you can get there. I think I can be comfortable, but I ain’t comfortable right now,” Tuma said to the Enbridge attorneys.
Later in the hearing, White Earth attorney Joe Plummer explained his band would prefer that the PUC deny a certificate of need for the new Line 3, even if that meant the old line, which Enbridge has said faces serious integrity issues and is in need of repair, continues to operate.
“It’s very difficult for us to advocate for no new line and also to shut down the existing Line 3; however, I believe that, if you speed the clock up a little bit, that’s the way it’s going to end up anyway,” Plummer said. “To me, the demand for the refined product in Minnesota or the five-state region is not going to go up and hasn’t.”
In response, PUC chair Nancy Lange seemed to echo his frustration.
“I wrestle with this constantly … because at the end of the day, the risk of this old line is significant enough that it needs to end,” Lange said.
Then commissioner Katie Sieben said the PUC’s task was “a bad decision either way.”
Either the new pipeline gets approved and the construction is disruptive to the environment or it is denied and the old Line 3, in need of many repairs, remains in service and risks spilling oil, Sieben explained.
Later in the hearing, commissioner Dan Lipschultz, who spent much of Monday questioning the parties about the demand for oil, joined the other commissioners in frustration.
“I still don’t know how I’m going to decide any of it,” he said.
Earlier in the hearing, Enbridge attorneys said corrosion and integrity issues will increase exponentially on the existing Line 3 if it remains in service, which is why a new pipeline is needed. The attorneys also argued that they would need to rely on rail cars to transport oil, which they said is riskier than a pipeline. When asked by Lipschultz if the existing Line 3 could remain in compliance and operable, Enbridge attorney Christina Brusven said, “Yes, but it is going to be increasingly difficult to do so.”
While certificate of need questions have dominated the first two days of hearings, Lange said she wanted commissioners to begin asking questions about the pipeline’s route permit when hearings and deliberations are held next week.
The route permit tells Enbridge where it can build the pipeline. Much of the route the company is eyeing would differ from the original Line 3, avoiding the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations though still crossing sensitive areas. However, an administrative law judge said the pipeline should follow the original route, and Enbridge should take out the old pipeline in the process — something the company did not intend to do. The PUC, however, does not have the authority to require reservations to permit pipelines.
With hearings wrapped for the week, the PUC warned that hearings were moving slowly and more time would likely be needed.
Hearings and deliberations will be held June 26 and 27 as originally scheduled, but that could be extended to June 28 and 29, Lange announced Tuesday. The PUC is expected to vote on Line 3 sometime next week.
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