ST. PAUL — As work begins on Enbridge's 340-mile Line 3 pipeline across northern Minnesota, project opponents have filed a new lawsuit aimed at a key water permit for the project.
As promised, a coalition of environmental and tribal groups have challenged the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's November approval of the pipeline's 401 certification, a permit awarded by a state's regulators if the project's impact on water falls within the state's standard.
The lawsuit — filed late Monday in the Minnesota Court of Appeals by Friends of the Headwaters, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, the Sierra Club and Honor the Earth — says the court must review a number of issues it says the MPCA refused to consider, including other pipeline routes, impacts to climate and tribes, risks to water quality from pipeline operation and "longer-term impacts to water quality and wetlands until after construction."
“The White Earth Band continues to stand and protect the waters for the wild rice, the fish, the birds and the four-legged creatures who are our relations and gifts from the Creator,” Frank Bibeau, White Earth tribal attorney, said in a news release Tuesday, Dec. 1. “We will continue to use every legal avenue available to stop the degradation of our waters for future generations to enjoy our Treaty-protected resources on and off reservation.”
The lawsuit came the same day the MPCA gave the project its stormwater construction permit — the final permit needed before construction could begin. In a news release Tuesday, Enbridge said "Line 3 construction has begun across Minnesota."
MPCA spokesperson Darin Broton defended the agency's permit.
"Using the process and rules defined by the federal Clean Water Act, the MPCA issued the most stringent 401 water quality certification for the Enbridge Line 3 project," Broton said in a statement Tuesday. "The agency reviewed approximately 10,000 public comments and granted a contested case hearing to ensure Minnesota’s most valued resource — its water — was protected."
Separately, the Red Lake and White Earth bands last week asked the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to stay, or pause, the project’s certificate of need until an ongoing Court of Appeals challenge is resolved and the COVID-19 pandemic eases. The groups argue an influx of construction workers would worsen COVID-19 rates along the route.
The PUC will consider the stay in a meeting Friday.
"There is no legitimate basis for this filing," Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner said in a statement. She also noted the six-year regulatory process Line 3 has moved through.
Kellner also said the more than 4,000 workers along the route will follow strict measures to avoid COVID-19.
In Friday's meeting, the PUC will also consider an October request by Indigenous-led environmental group Honor the Earth that argues Line 3 is no longer needed because the company has added capacity to its network of existing pipelines.
Once complete, the pipeline will move 760,000 barrels of oil (31.92 million gallons) per day from Alberta, Canada, to Enbridge's terminal in Superior, Wis., following a new route through much of northern Minnesota. The segments in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin are already complete.