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Minnesota regulators approve final permit for Enbridge Energy's Line 3 pipeline

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.

$2.6B project will replace an existing pipeline built in the 1960s

In this file photo, Enbridge workers weld pipe just west of Morden, Man. In Minnesota, regulators have given final approval to the Line 3 replacement project. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

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-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.

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

Line 3 begins in Alberta and clips a corner of North Dakota before crossing Minnesota on its way to Enbridge's terminal in Superior, Wis. The replacement segments in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin are already operating, leaving only the 542-kilometre stretch in Minnesota. Altogether Enbridge expects to spend $2.9 billion on the U.S. portion.

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

Enbridge notified landowners along the route via letters earlier in the month that it expected construction to "start on approximately Nov. 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."

'Crucial milestone' 

The Alberta government hailed the news as a win for the province, and for North American energy security.

"This is a crucial milestone, particularly given the challenges the project has faced," Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said in a statement issued Monday, commending the "hard work and perseverance" of Enbridge employees.

"Canada and the U.S. have built the world's strongest, most interdependent and trusted energy trading relationship. Alberta has, and will continue to be, a stable, secure and responsible energy supplier to the U.S. Our relationship is even more important during these uncertain times as our continued energy partnership will be critical to the continent's post-pandemic recovery."

The Alberta government said it would continue fighting for other pipelines as well.

"Pipelines — including Keystone XL and the Trans Mountain Expansion Project — remain integral to protecting and enhancing the value of Alberta's resources," Savage said. "We will continue to fiercely advocate for their timely completion."

Two First Nations — 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 Indigenous groups is also pending before the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Opponents say the project threatens spills in pristine waters where Indigenous people harvest wild rice and that the Canadian oilsands oil it plans to carry would aggravate climate change.

'This project has faced years of scrutiny'

Enbridge said replacing the deteriorating pipeline, which was built in the 1960s and runs at only half its original capacity, is the best option for protecting the environment while meeting the region's energy needs. The company said it has instituted strict coronavirus testing and screening protocols for workers to protect them and surrounding communities.

"Thousands of our friends and neighbours across Minnesota look forward to using their construction skills to protect our environment and communities by replacing an existing deteriorating pipeline," Joel Smith, president of the Minnesota and North Dakota council of the Laborers' International Union of North America.

"This project has faced years of scrutiny and unprecedented obstruction from Democrats and their allies," Republican Minnesota House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, of Crown, said in a statement. But he added that the process "ultimately" worked.

"Let's get to work on the Line 3 pipeline," he said.

With files from the CBC

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