DULUTH — A coalition of mayors near the route of Enbridge's proposed Line 3 oil pipeline have asked Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz to prevent the Department of Commerce from filing an appeal over whether the project is actually needed.
The Public Utilities Commission on Thursday, June 25, is set to consider requests for reconsideration filed last month by the department, environmental groups and Minnesota tribes. If the PUC denies the requests, which it quickly and unanimously did in November 2018, the parties can then petition the Minnesota Court of Appeals to review the case.
The department has long argued the PUC improperly approved the pipeline's certificate of need by failing to consider a long-range demand forecast, because Enbridge instead submitted a pipeline utilization forecast that assumed demand would continue at 2016 refinery capacity.
The 42 mayors urged Walz to support the Line 3 project, which would replace the existing, aging Line 3 with a new pipeline that would increase existing capacity and follow a new route through much of the state. It is expected to carry 760,000 barrels of oil (31.92 million gallons) per day from Alberta, Canada to the Enbridge terminal in Superior, Wisconsin.
"We need you to say YES to Line 3 and NO to the Minnesota Department of Commerce filing any more appeals," the mayors wrote. "We need you to start appropriating funding outside the Twin Cities area and hold your agencies accountable for approving projects in a timely and fair process."
Walz spokesperson Teddy Tschann said the governor supports the request for reconsideration, but would not comment on if he'd back a petition to the Court of Appeals if the request is denied by the PUC on Thursday.
“When it comes to projects like Line 3, the governor believes the state needs to follow the process, follow the science and follow the law," Tschann said. "Gov. Walz supports the Department of Commerce’s decision to file a request for reconsideration of the certificate of need by the PUC.”
After the PUC denied the department's petition for review in November 2018, the department then asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals to review the Line 3 case in the final days of Gov. Dayton's administration in December 2018. But the Court of Appeals said that filing was premature and asked parties to refile in February 2019, forcing Gov. Walz, then one month in office, to decide if he would continue the appeal. He ultimately chose to continue the appeal and said Dayton's appeal "is now part of this process."
The Court of Appeals in June 2019 said the environmental review was inadequate, which forced the PUC to reconsider Line 3's certificate of need and route permit with new environmental review information in hand and ultimately restarted the petition and appeal process.
In the letter, the mayors said in a June 10 call with the governor, Walz "shared with us during our call that you were unaware that the Minnesota Department of Commerce has again petitioned its sister agency, the PUC, to reconsider its approval for Line 3."
The governor's office denied that claim and said Walz was aware of the department's request for reconsideration being filed.
The mayors said jobs created by the construction of Line 3 could help the region's economy recover from the pandemic, especially if construction could start this year.
But even if the department doesn't file an appeal in the courts, Line 3 faces similar appeals from environmental groups and Minnesota tribes.
Additionally, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said it would hold a contested case hearing after concerns the pipeline could harm wetlands and streams were raised. The hearing will be held Aug. 24-28, and a report is expected Oct. 26.
The hearing will put 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 standards, in front of an administrative law judge to examine additional evidence and testimony on the project. Federal agencies cannot issue a federal permit or license without a state approving the 401 certification.
The MPCA has said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers extended its deadline for the 401 certification until Nov. 14, pushing it beyond 2020's prime construction season.
According to the meeting's agenda, "The (PUC) has the authority to accept or decline a petition for reconsideration with or without a hearing or oral argument. ... In other words, a decision on a petition for reconsideration can be made without taking oral comments at the Commission meeting."