ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- Minnesota regulators have voted unanimously to approve Enbridge Energy's proposal for replacing its aging Line 3 oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.
The Public Utilities Commission entered a fifth day of hearings on the project Thursday and deliberated once the commissioners finished questioning representatives on both sides of the debate.
The vote of approval was 5-0.
Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge argued it needs to replace Line 3, which it built in the 1960s, because it's increasingly subject to corrosion and cracking and can run at only half its original capacity.
Enbridge Line 3 will cross the state from North Dakota border to Wisconsin, passing through the White Earth reservation.
Passion filled the streets of St. Paul Thursday. Climate change and tribal activists used their voices and creativity to make their point. Some set up a large tripod to block one street outside the PUC's building in downtown St. Paul on Thursday morning. It bore a sign reading, "Expect Resistance."
Ethan Nuss helped organize the group, upset over what an oil pileline in Northwest Minnesota could do to the White Earth Indian Reservation.
"The more people learn about it the more they realize this is a toxic project pumping some of the most dirty and toxic chemicals on the planet, tar sands through our most pristine Minnesota waters," Nuss said.
Bob Schoenberger is in construction and among 200 people who also showed up outside the hearing to show their support of the Enbridge pipeline.
"We don't go out there and try to hurt the land, we have construction techniques and practices that are best in the industry," he said. "There's not a person in this state this region that this project will not benefit. It's just like anything else, if you have good solids supply of a product we all need then that helps keep prices down. Nobody can argue that."
For now, the two sides will continue to disagree.
"Even if the official process fails us we have no other choice than to defend our water and defend our way of life and stand with the Ojibwe nations if necessary," Nuss said.
Proponents of the pipeline say another benefit to the pipeline expansion is the creation of new jobs.
Gov. Mark Dayton responded to the approval: "Many people hold passionate views on this project. I urge everyone to express themselves peacefully. The PUC's decision is not the final approval of this pipeline. Rather, it only allows Enbridge to begin to apply for at least 29 required federal, state, and local permits.
"Those regulatory reviews, which address numerous issues not considered by the PUC, will take several months. Approvals are by no means assured, and they would require any such project to meet Minnesota's highest standards, protecting all our state's earth, air, water, natural resources, and cultural heritage. I assure that state agencies will fully uphold those high standards, as they review these applications. Construction cannot and will not begin, unless Enbridge receives all required permit approvals."
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