Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Advisers Quit

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Advisers Quit

A citizen advisory group at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has collapsed following the regulator’s decision to issue a water-quality permit to Enbridge Energy for its Line 3 oil pipeline cutting through Minnesota, according to StarTribune.

The bulk of the agency’s Environmental Justice Advisory Group has resigned in protest over the permitting decision, saying in a letter Tuesday to MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop that “we cannot continue to legitimize and provide cover for the MPCA’s war on Black and brown people.”

A dozen of the board’s 17 members signed the letter, which called the water-quality permit the “final straw” in a series of MPCA actions that they said sidelined the advisory group.

The state Public Utilities Commission is the primary regulator of pipelines in Minnesota, but last week the MPCA issued Enbridge a crucial permit for the project known as a “401 water quality certification.” Denying such a permit could derail a project. The certification takes its name from Section 401 of the country’s Clean Water Act, and regulates pollutants discharged into nearby waters.

The $2.6 billion Line 3 oil pipeline would cut underground across northern Minnesota, crossing more than 200 streams, and affect more than 700 acres of wetlands as it carries oil from tar sands in Canada to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, WI. The company says it needs the new pipeline to replace one that’s worn.

Opponents say the project represents an unacceptable risk to the Native American tribes whose land and wild rice stands it crosses and undermines the state’s climate change goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels.

The MPCA last week said the permit it issued to Enbridge was “its most stringent 401 water quality certification to date.” It listed nearly three dozen conditions. For example, it prohibits releasing drilling mud into any water or wetlands and bans construction in or near wild-rice waters or sensitive wetlands between April 1 and mid-July.

The permit does touch on pipeline operation. One condition says Enbridge must not discharge any crude oil from the pipeline into nearby waters, including groundwater, and that if it does, it must immediately notify the state Department of Public Safety and MPCA and clean it up.

Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, said the MPCA took too narrow a view of its role in considering the 401 permit. He said the agency could have denied the permit on the grounds that construction alone of such a project would have caused unavoidable degradation to state waters.