Energy & Environment

Activists step up pressure on Minnesota pipeline

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Activists are battling a Minnesota pipeline project through protests, in court and by putting pressure on the Biden administration to block its construction. 

Supporters of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline say it will create jobs and contribute to the nation’s energy supply, but opponents argue it will interfere with tribal rights and have negative impacts on climate change. 

At issue is not the entire pipeline, which was built in the 1960s, but a new segment the company is calling a “replacement” for an existing part of the pipeline. The new segment will take a route that’s different from the original. 

The portion of pipeline in question would carry carbon-intensive tar sands oil produced in Canada across a total of 364 miles, most of which are in Minnesota. 

A Minnesota administrative law judge found that the replacement pipeline could add the equivalent of 193 million more tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere when compared with the existing Line 3.

The extra emissions would be greater than all of the emissions the state produces in one year, according to data from recent years.

A lawsuit filed in December argues that the pipeline will negatively impact land and water where tribes hunt, fish, and gather wild rice and would “threaten” important groundwater resources.

“Our way of life is entirely dependent on this water and this wild rice and this land,” said Winona LaDuke, head of the environmental group Honor the Earth and member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. 

Frank Bibeau, a lawyer for the White Earth Ojibwe, argued that they also have the right to use these lands under treaties with the U.S. government.

“We reserved the rights to wild rice, we made sure in our treaty negotiations that we still can have access to the lakes and the rivers,” Bibeau said.  “We have a commercial right over the territory to earn a modest living.”

The company argues that both the federal and Minnesota state government assessed the pipeline’s impacts and approved it. 

“The various panels of government made a decision based on the information around what’s going to protect water assets, what’s going to protect fishing assets, what’s going to protect wild rice growth, what’s going to protect people that are in and around the right-of-way,” Enbridge senior vice president and Chief Communications Officer Mike Fernandez told The Hill. 

“All of those things were taken into consideration over six years,” he said. 

He added that he thinks the project is necessary because “we have a lot more of [the] energy transition to work through” and “there clearly is a demand for what is in the pipeline.”

Opposition to the project has taken the form of protests that have involved a couple hundred people, including actor and activist Jane Fonda. Some pipeline opponents have chained themselves to a piece of the pipeline or have locked themselves to a boat to block access to work sites. 

LaDuke said she believes tactics like these have been effective at delaying the project and increasing its costs. 

“It’s a $9 billion project because a bunch of people chain themselves to equipment and a bunch of us stood out there,” she said. “By this summer, there will just be more in numbers.”

Enbridge has noted that the old route runs through the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe reservation while the new route wouldn’t. 

In a 2018 op-ed,  Leech Lake Chairman Faron Jackson Sr. wrote that the tribe didn’t support a “no build” option that was under consideration, as this would keep the original Line 3 operational instead. 

“I wish one of these options was truly ‘no pipeline,’ but that isn’t the world we live in,” Jackson wrote. “Our logical stance as a tribal nation is to take care of the land on which we live.”

Meanwhile, Fernandez said that the company has made a “special effort” to engage with various indigenous communities, and that there were numerous public hearings that included participation from the pipeline’s opponents. 

Critics see multiple avenues to potentially block the pipeline’s construction, including through a federal court challenge or by convincing President Biden to take action.

Earlier this month, more than 350 of the pipeline’s opponents wrote to Biden urging him to “immediately reevaluate and suspend or revoke” the Army Corps permit and urging him to revoke the presidential permit. 

Fernandez, however, was skeptical about these efforts.

“We have all the final approvals … to get in now would mean a total switch,” he said when asked whether the Biden administration could become involved. “We believe we have every right to do what we’re doing and have not been stopped either by the state or by the courts.”

Asked about Line 3, a White House spokesperson said in an email the administration will evaluate infrastructure proposals based on energy needs, if they will help the country reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 and whether they can create good-paying union jobs. The spokesperson didn’t say anything specific to the Line 3 project. 

The battle has some similarities to other pipeline fights, like the Keystone XL pipeline, which also would have imported tar sands oil from Canada and for which Biden has revoked a key cross-border permit.

“We believe building this new pipeline is just not environmentally conscious and doesn’t help us achieve those climate goals that we … are seeing the president and his administration prioritizing,” said Mahyar Sorour, the deputy legislative director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign.  

“It would carry the same heavy tar sands oil through the Midwest and was also fast-tracked under the Trump administration,” Sorour added, comparing it to the Keystone pipeline. 

However, Fernandez sought to distance Line 3 from the Keystone.

“This is not the Keystone XL pipeline. Line 3 already exists,” he said.

Tags Climate change Enbridge Line 3 pipeline Joe Biden Minnesota oil and gas drilling

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