Minnesota gives final green light to disputed oil pipeline

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FILE - In this June 29, 2018, file photo, pipeline used to carry crude oil is shown at the Superior, Wis., terminal of Enbridge Energy. A significant permit has been granted to Enbridge's plan to replace its aging Line 3 oil pipeline across northern Minnesota. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota regulators approved the final permit Monday for Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 crude oil pipeline replacement across northern Minnesota, giving the company the green light to begin construction on the $2.6 billion project.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency granted a construction storm water permit for the project, which was the last hurdle that Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge needed to clear after years of reviews and court battles. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the independent Minnesota Public Utilities Commission gave their final approvals last week.

“This project has had the most extensive review in Minnesota history,” Gov. Tim Walz told reporters. He said his position all along has been that the state needed to follow the regulatory process, the law and the science.

The company and its supporters welcomed the decision, but opponents have vowed to keep up their fight.

"Construction can now begin," Enbridge spokeswoman Juli Kellner said in a statement that didn't specify when that would happen.

But Enbridge has signaled that the start could be imminent. The company notified landowners along the route via letters earlier in the month that it expected construction to “start on approximately November 30.” The company has previously said it expected the work to take about nine months.

“This is the culmination of six years of evidence and science-based review of the project,” Kellner said. “Line 3 is poised to provide significant economic benefits for counties, small businesses, Native American communities, and union members – bringing 4,200 family-sustaining, mostly local construction jobs, millions of dollars in local spending and additional tax revenues at a time when Northern Minnesota needs it most.”

But two tribes — the Red Lake and White Earth Bands of Chippewa — asked the PUC last week to stay its approval of the project, saying the influx of construction workers would put residents along the route at higher risk of COVID-19. A consolidated appeal by environmental and tribal groups is also pending before the Minnesota Court of Appeals.