The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency gave the final green light Monday to the controversial construction of Enbridge Energy’s 337-mile oil pipeline in a rush before the Biden administration reaches the White House. The Red Lake Band of Chippewa, White Earth Bands of Ojibwe, and Mille Lacs Band have adamantly rejected the tar sands oil pipeline, saying it will contaminate their water and territories, severely affecting their way of life and Native American wild rice harvest. They have requested the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to stay its approval of the pipeline construction pending a state court decision.
Enbridge has exhausted its options after a six-year uphill battle against Minnesota’s citizens who doubt Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline promise of economic benefits and jobs. In late August, the Minnesota Department of Commerce asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals to review the proposed Enbridge’s pipeline, challenging its claim that there’s adequate demand for the oil it proposed to carry. Oil giants have faced severe decline this year, seeing the demand for oil drop, concerns for the climate crisis rise, and investment in their stocks plummet.
Last summer, the same court rejected the project’s environmental impact statement and ordered state officials to include risks of a potential spill on Lake Superior watershed.
A new lawsuit was also filed on Monday by the Chippewa and Ojibwe Tribes, Friends of the Headwaters, Sierra Club, and Honor the Earth against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for being “out of step with science and the will of Minnesotans.” The Tribes and health professionals have also raised concerns on the health risks posed by out-of-state construction workers who would be hired to work on the pipeline construction during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It seems ironic and deeply troubling that on the day Gov. Walz convened his new committee on climate, the PCA approved the last of the permits needed to build an unnecessary tar sands pipeline at a peak in the pandemic in northern Minnesota when our climate is already in flux,” said Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth, in a statement.
The rush to begin construction seems connected to high hopes placed on the Biden administration—which ran on the promise to pull the plug Keystone XL Pipeline—to reject the Dakota Pipeline and Enbridge’s Line 3 as well. Climate advocates are calling for an executive order to halt the three projects and to direct federal agencies to run a “climate test” on all oil projects on climate change, before issuing further permits.
Enbridge Energy already received a severe defeat in November when Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer moved to close Line 5 pipeline, citing violations and threats to clean drinking water and the Great Lakes. Enbridge’s long history of oil spills precedes its reputation in the region—including $1.2 billion in fines for cleanup and restoration in southern Michigan after damaging Kalamazoo River in 2010 in the largest inland oil spill in US history.
It’s reputation on cracking down on protesters was also duly noted by Minnesota Public Utilities Commission which formally prohibited Enbridge from “engaging in counterinsurgency tactics or misinformation campaigns designed to interfere with the public’s legal exercise of constitutional rights,” as part of their project’s approval. According to the Intercept, pipeline opponents are already experiencing law enforcement surveillance, similar to the ones used against Standing Rock activists.
Native American activists have promised fierce opposition to any construction that would cross White Earth Reservation and announced they are preparing to take a stand on Water Protector Camps through the winter months, if necessary.—Sofia Jarrin