How in depth was the study to determine the environmental impact of Line 3?

The Line 3 replacement is the most studied pipeline project in Minnesota’s history.  State agency staff spent 16 months drafting, in accordance with law, the 5,000 page analysis Environmental Impact Study (EIS). Forty-nine public meetings were held with multiple comment periods in which all input was gathered and included in the report.

Before the EIS was even started, from 2013 through 2015, 306 Enbridge field staff spent 242,125 hours (equivalent to 27 years of study) surveying wetlands, water bodies, cultural resources, and endangered species to help determine a preferred project route that minimizes potential impacts to people and the environment.

Why is an Environmental Impact Statement required? As explained on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission website:

The Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) requires that an environmental impact statement (EIS) be prepared for major governmental actions that have the potential for creating significant environmental impacts. To fulfill its MEPA responsibilities, the Commission has authorized the preparation of an EIS that addresses Enbridge’s Certificate of Need and Route Permit applications. The Commission has authorized The Department of Commerce’s Energy Environmental Review and Analysis (EERA) Unit to prepare the EIS, in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. 

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission website also outlines the in depth process leading up to the PUC approving the Final EIS for Line 3 (emphasis added):

  • In August 2015, the Department of Commerce conducted 15 public information meetings in 10 different counties in connection with the scoping process for the comparative environmental analysis that was to be prepared at that time. The scoping period included a 72-day comment period.
  • In April 2016, the Department of Commerce issued the Environmental Assessment Worksheet and the Draft Scoping Decision Document for the Line 3 Project. The Department of Commerce also conducted 12 EIS scoping meetings in 10 different counties. The scoping period included a 45-day comment period.
  • In November 2016, upon completion of EIS scoping, the Commission approved the EIS scoping decision proposed by the Department of Commerce and forwarded one system alternative, four route alternatives, and 24 route segment alternatives for further consideration during the contested case proceedings.
  • On December 5, 2016, the Department of Commerce issued the EIS Scoping Decision Document and the EIS Preparation Notice. The EIS Preparation Notice signals the start of preparation of the Draft EIS, and start of the 280-day timeline in which a determination of adequacy must be made.
  • On May 15, 2017, the Department of Commerce released the Draft EIS.
  • In June 2017, the Department of Commerce held 22 public information meetings in 22 different counties. The purpose of the meetings was to provide an overview of the Draft EIS and allow interested persons to ask questions and provide oral and written on the Draft EIS. A comment period following the meetings was open until July 10, 2017.
  • On August 14, 2017, the Commission issued an order that: 1) extended the 280-day statutory deadline for completion of the Final EIS by the consent of the parties; 2) referred the matter of Final EIS adequacy to a second ALJ, and requested the judge develop a record and issue a report and recommendation; and 3) established a procedural schedule for the adequacy determination. 
  • On August 17, 2017, the Department of Commerce released the Final EIS. A comment period was open until October 2, 2017, to receive comments on the adequacy of Final EIS. 
  • From September 26, 2017 through October 25, 2017, the Commission held 16 public hearings in eight different counties. The public hearings were conducted by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) from the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings. A comment period was open until November 22, 2017, to receive comments on the certificate of need application and the route permit application for the proposed Line 3 project.
  • On November 1, 2017, the second ALJ filed his report concerning the adequacy of the Final EIS. The ALJ recommended that the Commission find the Final EIS adequate.
  • On December 14, 2017, the Commission issued an order which concluded that the Final EIS could not be found adequate until it contained specific additional information. The Commission requested the Department of Commerce to prepare the additional information and submit to the Commission by February 12, 2018.
  • On February 12, 2018, the Department of Commerce issued a revised Final EIS.
  • On May 1, 2018, the Commission issued an order finding the revised Final EIS adequate.

The approved Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was 13,500 pages in length. It is the result of extensive work between different agencies including the environmental branch of the Department of Commerce (DOC), the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and the Department of Natural Resources.  Regulators reviewed it and approved the EIS’ adequacy, meaning they believed the report had fully examined and reviewed all of the issues and other element of the project.

Line 3 opponents appealed the adequacy decision and asked the courts to review the matter. In June of 2019 the Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected 8 of the 9 disputes raised by these groups, but identified one issue with the EIS that the court believed needed further analysis: addressing the potential impact of an oil spill into the Lake Superior watershed.

Excerpts from Judge Francis Connolly’s dissenting opinion indicate why this additional review is not necessary:

“I respectfully dissent. I do not believe that the decision of respondent Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (commission) was arbitrary and capricious or unsupported by substantial evidence. Relator Honor the Earth (HTE) contends that the final environmental-impact statement (FEIS) failed to consider the effect of oil spills on the Lake Superior watershed. HTE is wrong. It did.”

 “The FEIS was thoughtfully prepared by the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s Energy Environmental Review and Analysis division (DOC-EERA) with assistance from other responsible agencies. It consists of 13 chapters, 21 appendices, and thousands of pages that address the potentially significant issues and alternatives raised in scoping. It was subjected to extensive public hearings and comments. It was thoroughly reviewed and determined adequate both by an experienced administrative-law judge (ALJ) and a unanimous commission.”

“While I agree that the FEIS needed to address the concerns raised in scoping, which committed it to “consider potential impacts to Lake Superior watershed,” I would nonetheless conclude that the representative-modeling approach sufficiently considered the effect of oil spills on the Lake Superior watershed.”

“But Minn. R. 4410.2800 does not state that issues must be addressed “specifically” and the FEIS did address the concerns about the Lake Superior watershed. The FEIS simply addressed it in a manner different from how HTE wanted. But as an appellate court, we cannot substitute our own judgment for the judgment of the DOC-EERA, DNR, MPCA, the experts tasked with drafting the FEIS, and finally the commission when that judgment is reasonable and supported by the record. This is not was our standard of review dictates.”

“In conclusion, by according substantial deference to the commission’s decision as required by precedent, I would affirm the commission’s decision that the FEIS is adequate D-12 because the representative-modeling approach sufficiently considers “potential impacts to the Lake Superior watershed” as required by the FSDD and the record reflects a reasoned determination of why that approach was used. Therefore, the commission’s decision is not arbitrary or capricious and is supported by the record. Consequently, I must dissent.”

The DNR and MPCA have since released a statement saying that although they will not take final action until the EIS is revised, the agencies will still continue their work on the permit applications.

The Public Utilities Commission decided not to appeal the court decision about the EIS.  They remain concerned about the need to keep the process moving and will revisit their environmental review of the project to include more analysis of the potential impact of a spill in the Lake Superior watershed.

After years of study by Enbridge, the Department of Commerce, the PCA, and the DNR, the Line 3 Replacement Project is now by far the most studied pipeline in Minnesota’s history. The additional work on the EIS will make an extremely thorough study even more thorough.

Additional Information:

The Truth about Line 3 

With so much information being shared and gathered about the Line 3 replacement project, it’s important to help everyone stay focused on the facts, address any misconceptions, and make sure that information about Line 3 is grounded in truth.

Minnesotans for Line 3 has identified some common questions about the project along with information, facts, and other background that answer those important questions.