State regulators postpone Enbridge meetings after protests erupt

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State regulators on Tuesday postponed a meeting on Enbridge’s controversial new $2.6 billion oil pipeline project after protests erupted in the hearing room.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) was evaluating whether Enbridge met conditions imposed by the panel in June in regard to the pipeline project, which would replace the company’s current Line 3. The conditions, which must be met for the company to receive its permit, include details of Enbridge’s corporate guarantee and insurance coverage in case of an oil spill.

A disruption started around 11:15 a.m. when three pipeline opponents in the back of the PUC hearing room in downtown St. Paul took out a bullhorn and made speeches aimed at the commissioners.

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“You should all be ashamed,” one protester said.

“It’s going to be really uncomfortable for you for the next couple of years,” another protester said.

PUC Chairwoman Nancy Lange then recessed the meeting until 11:45 a.m. The commissioners came back at 11:55, and they were greeted with protesters shouting, “What do you do when your land is under attack? Fight back.”

Lange tried to restart the meeting, and the protests diminished, though one pipeline opponent continued playing music on a boombox. Lange then canceled the rest of the meeting when her request to turn the music off wasn’t heeded. The PUC will reschedule the meeting as soon as possible, said Dan Wolf, the commission’s executive secretary.

There were at least 20 opponents in the crowd, and about 20 pipeline supporters.

Several opponents, in a protest coordinated by the environmental activist group MN350, sat with their backs facing the commissioners, their shirts featuring slogans, such as “Enbridge lap dogs.” No organization took credit for the bullhorn speeches.

In a statement, Enbridge said it “was unfortunate a small group of people derailed the commission’s discussion,” and that while the regulatory process has “raised many passionate interventions,” Tuesday’s protest “crossed the line.”

New Line 3 has been a flash point since it was proposed four years ago. Enbridge said the pipeline, which would ferry Canadian oil across northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis., is a critical safety enhancement, since the current Line 3 is aging and corroding and running at only 51 percent capacity.

The new Line 3 would restore full capacity.

Environmental groups and several American Indian bands said the pipeline — which follows a new route — would open up a new region of pristine waters to environmental degradation from oil spills.

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