ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Department of Commerce is again expressing opposition to Enbridge Energy’s proposed Line 3 oil pipeline.
On Friday, Dec. 21, the department, which has long opposed the project, asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals to reconsider the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s decision to grant the project a certificate of need because “Enbridge did not introduce, and the Commission did not evaluate the accuracy of a long-range demand forecast for the type of energy that would be supplied by the proposed facility,” the department said in its filing.
In June, the five-member PUC unanimously granted the project a certificate of need, which it needed to support by law if denial would hurt the "adequacy, reliability or efficiency" of energy supplies for the region, there is no better alternative, the benefits outweigh the risks and the project meets all laws and regulations.
In an emailed statement, Enbridge said it was confident the courts would support the PUC’s decision.
“The DOC’s claims against the project are not supported by evidence or Minnesota law. Both the administrative law judge and MPUC recognized the need to replace Line 3,” Enbridge said.
The controversial pipeline is set to replace the 50-year-old Line 3 and carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta to the Enbridge terminal in Superior. Enbridge hopes to begin construction next year.
Earlier this week, several tribes and environmental groups also asked the court of appeals to reconsider the PUC’s decision.
In a statement Friday afternoon, the PUC said it “stands by its decision to grant a certificate of need for the proposed Line 3 Pipeline Replacement Project.”
The PUC was responsible for considering the project's route permit and certificate of need. The five governor-appointed commissioners officially granted the certificate of need in September after giving initial approval at a contentious meeting in June. Petitions to reconsider the certificate of need were denied last month.
The PUC also approved the project's route permit in June, finalized it in October and denied petitions for reconsideration last week.
Governor backs department
In a statement Friday morning, Gov. Mark Dayton supported the department’s appeal and echoed arguments made by the department in his strongest rebuke of the pipeline yet.
“Enbridge failed to provide a future demand forecast for its product, which is required by state law. Instead, the company presented its analysis of the future oil supply from Canadian tar sands extractions. It failed to demonstrate that Minnesota needs this pipeline to meet our future oil demand. In fact, most of the product would flow through our state to supply other states and countries,” Dayton said.
Enbridge disagreed with Dayton’s comments.
“The statement from Governor Dayton today is very disappointing and erroneous. Enbridge’s expert presented multiple detailed future forecasts all of which showed demand for the restored capacity of a replaced Line 3 is needed for years to come. This included submitting a forecast that assumed 75 percent infiltration of electric vehicles in Minnesota by 2035,” Enbridge said.
Dayton’s statement Friday wasn’t the first time he’s waded into the contentious pipeline debate.
When an administrative law judge recommended the pipeline follow the existing route through two reservations — Leech Lake and Fond du Lac — in April, Dayton said the project wouldn’t be possible because tribes opposed to the pipeline had the ability to block it from passing through their land.
“I don't see any viable way that that could be attempted or should be attempted going through the two tribal lands,” Dayton said.
In May, Dayton vetoed a bill passed by the Senate and House that would have pushed Line 3 through to approval and bypass the PUC.
“It would destroy the integrity of the process designed to protect the public interest that has been in place for 43 years,” Dayton said of the bill.
When the PUC did make its decision in June, Dayton was quick to point out that numerous other permits were still needed and the project was far from certain, a point his communications staff has reiterated to reporters in the months since.
“The PUC’s decision is not the final approval of this pipeline. Rather, it only allows Enbridge to begin to apply for at least 29 required federal, state and local permits,” Dayton said in a statement when the PUC approved Line 3 in June.
Although Gov.-elect Tim Walz, who in October said he supported the PUC’s June decision, would ostensibly have the power to change course on this lawsuit — and appoint a Department of Commerce commissioner more favorable to Line 3 — a communications staffer offered only the following statement: “There is only one governor at a time, and Governor Dayton used his authority to appeal the PUC’s determination.”
Dayton’s Department of Commerce continues to fight pipeline
The Department of Commerce has long opposed the pipeline and any proposed modifications.
The department has argued since September 2017 that Enbridge has not proven the state needs the pipeline, a key requirement for the certificate of need.
In September, the department formally requested the PUC reconsider its certificate of need, but that petition was ultimately denied by the PUC.
Earlier in September, the department said Enbridge's Line 3 liability insurance would not cover an oil spill.
In July, the department’s Division of Energy Resources recommended the PUC not approve the company's decommissioning trust fund, a condition guiding the removal of the old Line 3, because it didn't fit into current law.
Duluth News Tribune reporter Brooks Johnson contributed to this report.