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Despite pressure from pipeline opponents, Biden administration continues defense of Enbridge's Line 3 project

Environmental groups and Ojibwe bands hoped Biden would pull permits from Line 3 as he had with the Keystone XL. The Army Corps' response to a lawsuit flies in the face of Biden's climate goals, they say.

FILE: Line 3 construction
Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline under construction near the intersection of Hohensee and West Moorhead roads in Carlton County in January. (Clint Austin / 2021 file / caustin@duluthnews.com)
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The Biden administration defended a federal permit for Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline Wednesday, June 24, indicating it won't oppose the 340-mile pipeline across northern Minnesota despite repeated calls by environmental groups and Ojibwe bands to pull the project's federal permits.

In a Wednesday court filing, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers urged a federal judge to deny a request by opponents asking the judge to reverse a permit overseeing the project's construction-related impacts to waters of the U.S.

As part of a lawsuit filed against the Army Corps , Minnesota Indigenous bands Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians and White Earth Band of Ojibwe, and environmental groups Honor the Earth and Sierra Club, asked the judge for a summary judgement, or to rule in their favor on the facts of the case, making a trial unnecessary.

The bands and groups had argued the Army Corps failed to consider severe environmental impacts, including climate change and potential spills of heavy Canadian oil. They also said the Army Corps should have conducted an environmental impact statement.

But in its reply Wednesday, the Army Corps stood by its permit and said it had weighed everything properly. The federal agency said it did not need to conduct an impact statement because it relied on one complied by Minnesota regulators.

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"The Corps found that the large majority of wetland impacts from the construction of Replacement Line 3 will be temporary and mitigation will be performed to compensate for the small amount of loss of aquatic resource function," the Army Corps wrote.

The Army Corps had issued the permit under the Trump administration, but after President Joe Biden canceled a key permit for the Keystone XL on his first day in office, Line 3 opponents had hopes he would deal the same blow to Line 3.

Groups then repeatedly sent the Biden letters and petitions calling on his administration to stop the pipeline.

But with the Army Corps' court filing Wednesday, those hopes were dashed.

"Today’s action by the Biden administration is a massive, tar sands pipeline-sized missed opportunity to break with the Trump administration’s pro-polluter agenda and stand on the side of Indigenous rights and climate justice," Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a news release. "Allowing Line 3 to move forward is, at best, inconsistent with the bold promises on climate and environmental justice President Biden campaigned and was elected on."

Enbridge, which is more than 60% done with work on Line 3, said the Army Corps' move was "expected."

"The brief filed for the US Army Corps of Engineers is an expected next step in the court appeal process — and lays out the very thorough review behind the science-based approvals of the Line 3 Replacement Project’s federal permits and authorizations," Juli Kellner, an Enbridge spokesperson, said in a statement.

The $3 billion replacement project has already wrapped construction in Canada, Wisconsin and North Dakota. The company said the pipeline is on track to come online in the fourth quarter. When complete, it will have the capacity to transport approximately 760,000 barrels of Canadian oil per day to the Enbridge terminal in Superior, Wis.

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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