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Judge pushes back timeline for Minnesota oil pipeline



MINNEAPOLIS — A decision on whether to approve a contentious oil pipeline in northern Minnesota is being delayed so the project’s environmental impact statement can be revised, an administrative law judge has ruled.

The decision from Judge Ann O’Reilly last week is a response to a Public Utilities Commission’s finding that the project’s impact statement was “inadequate.” The PUC on Dec. 7 gave the state Commerce Department 60 days to make revisions.

Regulators had planned to decide the fate of the pipeline by April 2018, but that has now been pushed back until at least June 2018 because of the judge’s ruling, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

O’Reilly called the proposed pipeline a complex project that could affect Minnesota’s water and environment and that it’s in the state’s interest to invest “a few extra weeks now to ensure that the law is followed and a comprehensive review of the project is conducted before a final decision is rendered in this important case.”

Calgary-based Enbridge Energy wants to replace its 1960s-era Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota. One of the required revisions in the impact statement is how an alternative route would be changed to avoid sensitive topography in southeastern Minnesota.

The PUC will decide whether to approve the pipeline after the judge makes a recommendation, which initially was expected to happen by March 30. But O’Reilly said she wanted to give all parties time to respond to the revised impact statement once it’s issued.

Enbridge spokeswoman Shannon Gustafson said the company is disappointed by the ruling because the needed revisions were “very simple follow-ups.”

But pipeline opponents welcomed the ruling.

“It is the responsibility of our government to adequately understand and weigh the environmental and cultural impacts of a project like this when making a decision,” said Margaret Levin, state director for the Sierra Club North Star Chapter.

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