In 2014, Board members of the Pine River Watershed Alliance were presented with a proposal for the Enbridge Sandpiper pipeline route through their watershed. The proposed pipeline was to carry oil from the Alberta tar sands oilfields, and it was proposed to go UNDER the Pine River. What does this mean for the river, and the lakes that it flows through? In 2016, the Sandpiper pipeline was cancelled, but a new pipeline project – called Line 3 Replacement – was proposed to follow the same route. The Line 3 replacement project—from Joliette, N.D., to Superior, Wis.—stretches 364 miles in the U.S. and would involve a pipe 36 inches in diameter to be built pending regulatory approval. This 36” pipeline would cross four streams that contribute water to the Whitefish Chain of Lakes – the jewel of the Pine River Watershed.
Members of the Pine River Watershed Alliance were concerned, and eventually took a position that supported the need for energy but demanded that the environment be protected. On the PRWA’s website, in a statement dated October 2017, their chair Ron Meyer said, “Activity on Enbridge Line 3 continues. There has been a lot of local TV and radio commercials supporting the construction of Line 3. The ads are not totally accurate. The MN Department of Commerce recently issued a report that states there is much more pipeline capacity than presently needed. MN does get 100,000 barrels of gasoline from the Superior refiner and maintaining that will not be affected by Line 3. PRWA is not against pipelines but we don’t want a pipeline through our critical water sources…”
This very local controversy highlights the concerns with this project. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will be deciding whether to issue a certificate of need and a pipeline routing permit for this project; the comment period for this project is now open and evidentiary hearings will take place in November. Public hearings around the area have aroused much interest on both sides of the issue, both pro- and against- the pipeline.
The proposed route crosses the Mississippi near the Headwaters as well as many tributaries to the Upper Mississippi along the way. It will carry all grades of crude oil from Canada to the Enbridge terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. The PUC website features an interactive map showing the current Line 3 route as well as the proposed route for the upgraded pipeline. The proposed new pipeline would use the power of eminent domain to potentially transport 760,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil per day.
When the UMRR Board met at the Headwaters on October 2, we experienced the beauty of the area and walked across the River at its beginning. We also met folks from the Friends of the Headwaters, a local citizen's group organized to address the planned pipeline. According to their website, they are organized “for the purpose of protecting our precious resources: Itasca State Park, the Mississippi River, our clean lakes and trout streams, the aquifer for our drinking water, our forests and wildlife from the potentially devastating impacts that will occur if the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline is constructed on the currently proposed route in Hubbard, Clearwater, Cass, Aitkin and Carlton Counties.”
So, what are the facts? Is this pipeline necessary? The Minnesota Department of Commerce looked at that question, and they found that “in light of the serious risks and effects on the natural and socioeconomic environments of the existing Line 3 and the limited benefit that the existing Line 3 provides to Minnesota refineries, it is reasonable to conclude that Minnesota would be better off if Enbridge proposed to cease operations of the existing Line 3, without any new pipeline being built.” (Quote from Ron Meador/MinnPost.)
The Minnesota Environmental Partnership (an organization of which LWV MN is a member) provided an interesting analysis on their website. This factsheet, with references, provides a more in-depth look at the issue. Because the pipeline would pass through significant wild rice resources, the proposed pipeline is of great concern to Native American groups as well – Winona La Duke is a spokesperson for the group Honor the Earth which has been protesting at events around the region. To counter these efforts, Enbridge has been promoting the project through commercials on Minnesota television and their website.
This will all come to a head in April, when the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission decides on the certificate of need and route permit. Stand by for the rest of the story!
LWV Bloomington and LWV Dakota County hosted a session on pipelines and their impact on Minnesota’s environment and people on April 18. A four-speaker panel addressed climate impacts, tribal rights, indigenous viewpoints and ways people can advocate on these issues. Robert Pilot, host of Native Roots Radio Presents, I’m Awake, was the moderator (center photo).
Alan Anderson from Citizen’s Climate Lobby pointed out the increase in extreme weather events in recent years, saying that climate change is affecting us now, and we need to make changes now to prevent more horrific consequences. His group works to awaken people to the issues and to work with their legislators to address the changes. Anderson urged people to talk about climate change, and recommended the website “skeptical science” as a way to find information to rebut misinformation. Citizen's Climate Lobby advocates for carbon fees and dividends as a way to use economic forces to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.
Melissa Anderson is an attorney with Hogan Adams PLLC, a law firm specializing in tribal and treaty law. She explained that treaties with Native American nations are interpreted under the “Reserved Rights Doctrine”, in that things that were not specifically ceded remained with the Indian nation, and that the treaties are to be interpreted from the Native viewpoint. It is not reasonable to think that people would agree to live in a specific place without access to water, so therefore access to water must be provided. This is important in understanding the Standing Rock protests.
Eryn Wise (photo on right), organizer for Honor the Earth, passionately talked about her frustration at excuses made to gloss over the genocide that’s been committed on Native Americans for the past 500 years. She was at Standing Rock and briefly shared her experiences, sharing the story of the children and youth who with her there. Wise urged attendees to bring children to political events and to engage them in discussions about issues – children understand and will take action, they should not be sheltered. Earlier this week, Wise was removed from the Minnesota House of Representatives for speaking out from the gallery and she told about the frustration with the dialog that lead to this end.
Kathy Hollander, volunteer activist, rounded out the evening with a rousing call to action, talking about the outreach and advocacy that MN350 does on climate issues. She said that citizens need to be engaged on pipeline siting issues, and that provisions in bills now in the legislature would remove pipeline siting from Public Utilities Commission oversight. The evening was well put together, and was taped by the local cable company for later cable cast and YouTube. Music for the evening was provided by the Red Bone Singers, Native American singers from the Twin Cities.