- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota regulators approved a certificate of need Friday for the proposed Sandpiper pipeline from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to Superior, Wisconsin, but will hold separate proceedings on exactly which path it should take across northern Minnesota.

While the Public Utilities Commission agreed 5-0 that the $2.6 billion, 610-mile pipeline is necessary and in the public interest, commissioners didn’t foreclose the possibility of rerouting it away from environmentally sensitive lakes, streams and wetlands. Enbridge Energy will still have to go through a lengthy review of its proposed route and a proposed alternative for part of the route that avoids some lakes and wetlands.

Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge argued that Sandpiper is needed to move the growing supply of North Dakota crude safely and efficiently to market. The company said it would also ease rail congestion and create about 1,500 construction jobs.

But environmentalists and tribal groups said the risk of leaks is too high, including where the route would run through the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

“The commissioners put the needs and profits of a private, foreign company ahead of Minnesota’s pristine, historically and economically valuable headwaters of the Mississippi,” said Richard Smith, a founder of Friends of the Headwaters, which pushed for a more southern route.

The PUC added requirements for the environmental review of the pipeline’s route, including a study of the cumulative impacts of both the Sandpiper and Enbridge’s proposal to replace its aging Line 3, which carries oil from Alberta’s tar sands region to its terminal in Superior, and run the replacement pipeline partly along the Sandpiper route.

North Dakota regulators have already approved Sandpiper.

The Mille Lacs and White Earth Ojibwe bands held their own hearings against Sandpiper on their reservations this week. The tribes said they felt shut out of a decision that affects sensitive watersheds where they hold treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather wild rice.

The PUC decision came a day before a planned march by climate change activists from the St. Paul riverfront to the State Capitol for a rally that they say will draw thousands of people.

The “Tar Sands Resistance March” aims to keep Canadian crude in the ground instead of piping it across the state via an expanded Alberta Clipper pipeline. Organizers including the Sierra Club and 350.org say tar sands oil is especially dirty because more fuel must be burned to extract it than other forms of oil, so more carbon dioxide is produced in the process, aggravating climate change.

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