Foes of Enbridge Line 3 pipeline file appeals in Minnesota

Opponents of Enbridge Energy's plan to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota filed appeals Wednesday to challenge the state Public Utilities Commission's approval of the project.

Environmental and tribal groups filed their initial notices with the Minnesota Court of Appeals against the commission's decision to grant a certificate of need for the pipeline. The state Department of Commerce, which opposed the project during the regulatory process, has not said if it will appeal.

The appellants will also include the Youth Climate Intervenors, a group of 13 people ages 25 and under that was granted official "intervenor" status in the commission's proceedings . They plan to file their appeal before Friday's deadline.

"We're appealing because the Public Utilities Commission blatantly ignored climate science in making their decision," said Akilah Sanders-Reed, 24. "The decision they made had little or no justification as to why they overlooked the expert opinions of many of the intervening parties and the Minnesota Department of Commerce in particular, and the (administrative law) judge who reviewed the record, all of whom said Enbridge's project shouldn't be permitted."

The teenagers and 20-somethings in the Youth Climate Intervenors got the opportunity to testify and to cross-examine Enbridge's witnesses before the PUC. They're being represented in the appeal by student-lawyers with the University of Minnesota Law School's Energy and Environment Legal Clinic.

Wednesday's filings included a joint appeal by the Red Lake and White Earth bands of Ojibwe, Honor the Earth and the Sierra Club; and one by Friends of the Headwaters.

Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge said the project has already undergone exhaustive scrutiny.

"Enbridge believes the courts will reaffirm the MPUC's process and decisions, which were made in accordance with the law based on full and complete evidence developed and presented over years of open and transparent regulatory and environmental review processes," the company said in a statement.

Line 3, which was built in the 1960s, crosses northern Minnesota and a corner of North Dakota on its way from Alberta to Enbridge's terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. Enbridge says it's increasingly subject to corrosion and cracking and can carry only about half its original capacity.

The opponents argue that the heavy Canadian tar sands oil the replacement will carry will accelerate climate change. They also say it risks oil spills in the Mississippi River headwaters region, including waters where the Ojibwe harvest wild rice.

Enbridge has begun construction preparations in Minnesota. The company told investors last week that the short segments in Wisconsin and North Dakota are already in operation. Enbridge expects to complete the work in Canada by July 1 and put the full replacement pipeline into service in late 2019.