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Senate passes plan to approve Line 3 oil pipeline

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Line 3 construction was underway in Wisconsin.
Line 3 construction was underway in Wisconsin last fall.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News file

The Minnesota Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow Enbridge Energy to build its contentious Line 3 oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, bypassing the typical process and legally forcing the pipeline's approval.

Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton said he'd veto any legislative attempt to preempt the state's approval process for Line 3.  House members are expected to sign off on the Senate's slight changes to the plan before it would go to Dayton's desk.

The Senate added a two-word amendment on Wednesday as an attempt to account for concerns over a tribal-cultural survey, said Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, who authored the Senate bill.

The state Public Utilities Commission has set four days of hearings and deliberations next month on Enbridge's proposed pipeline. Enbridge wants to replace its current, aging Line 3 along a new route that avoids tribal lands but cuts through northern Minnesota's pristine forests, wetlands and water bodies.

Osmek said the reason for the bill is to show lawmakers' approval for the pipeline

"I want the Legislature on the record saying, "Do this and do it now because it needs to be done,'" Osmek said. "We have a line that is running at half capacity because of safety concerns. It's time to get the job done for Minnesotans."

Environmentalists, tribes and other groups have been fighting Line 3 for years. They say the pipeline poses too great a risk for Minnesota's environment and impedes on historic tribal areas. They also argue society needs to more quickly move away from fossil fuels.

The Sierra Club on Wednesday decried the Senate's action.

"Minnesotans deserve better than this politically-motivated short circuit of the review process for Line 3. Our legislators are supposed to represent the people, not Enbridge," Margaret Levin, state director of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter, said in a statement.

An administrative law judge last month recommended that Line 3 get regulators' approval, but only on its currently location — not on the new route that Enbridge prefers.

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe said that non-binding recommendation was "a clear attack on sovereignty and Tribal communities."