The state Department of Natural Resources approved steps Thursday to bring a controversial crude oil pipeline through Wisconsin closer to reality. The move immediately drew criticism from environmentalists.

The DNR approved an air construction permit for expanding storage tank capacity at a Superior terminal owned by Enbridge Energy Co. The DNR said it approved the permit after getting more than 200 written comments and about 3,400 emails from the public.

The comments mainly centered on Enbridge’s pipeline from Superior to the border of Illinois, which was not part of the air permit process, the DNR said. Many comments asked the agency to do an environmental assessment or environmental impact review.

The DNR said it did environmental assessments for the Houston-based company’s Southern Access Line 61 project in 2006 and the Alberta Clipper pipeline project in 2009. The air permit issued to the company does not require additional analysis under current law, the DNR said.

Elizabeth Ward of the Sierra Club called the decision “disappointing.” The proposal would triple capacity, creating the largest tar sands pipeline in the United States, the group said.

She said the DNR ignored thousands of comments from the public and local communities demanding a full environmental impact statement on the expansion of the tar sands pipeline.

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