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Court of Appeals denies tribes' request to pause Line 3 permits

Margaret Levin, state director of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter, called the decision not to halt construction of the Line 3 replacement while legal matters are resolved as “bitterly disappointing.”

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A pipeline worker watches a protest from a Line 3 worksite near Reponen Road near Sawyer on Jan. 22. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
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DULUTH — The Minnesota Court of Appeals denied a request late Tuesday, Feb. 2, by two northern Minnesota Indigenous tribes to pause key permits for Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline project currently under construction across the state.

In a motion filed in late December , the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians and White Earth Band of Ojibwe argued the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission's refusal to stay the permits early in December was "an abuse of discretion" and asked the court to review that decision and grant its motion to stay the project's certificate of need and route permit.

Margaret Levin, state director of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter, called the decision not to halt construction of the Line 3 replacement as “bitterly disappointing.”

“Indigenous leaders, organizers, landowners and allies have stood on the front lines for years to fight this pipeline, which would disrupt Minnesota communities, pollute our water, and harm our climate,” Levin said. “Now more than ever, it’s up the Biden administration to cancel this project once and for all.”

In a statement, Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner said: “We’re pleased with the decision from the Court of Appeals, but not surprised. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission review of the Line 3 Replacement Project was thorough and exhaustive from the environmental impact statement to the certificate of need and route permit. This is an essential maintenance and safety project that enhances environmental protections.”

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The Court of Appeals is currently considering several cases challenging the project. Opponents of the pipeline have said the permits should be on hold until the court cases are resolved and the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

Without a stay, the tribes argued, the construction on the project will be finished before those courts can make a decision, rendering any decision moot.

The court ruled that the Public Utilities Commission “did not abuse its discretion by failing to identify the substantial-issues factor as one of the relevant factors for determining whether to issue a stay in this case” and therefore the Court of Appeals expressed no opinion on the merits of the issues raised in the appeal denying the stay of construction requested by the tribes.

On Dec. 4, the Public Utilities Commission ultimately decided, in a 4-1 vote, to let the project proceed unhindered, saying that a stay would deal a blow to workers contracted for it while allowing the existing pipeline to deteriorate.

Other legal challenges facing the project filed by environmental groups and tribes include a lawsuit against 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 — and a federal lawsuit arguing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' approval of a water quality permit in November did not consider several environmental impacts.

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