The state’s point person working to elevate Native voices around a proposed crude oil pipeline in northern Minnesota has quit her job, citing a lack of transparency and good faith effort by the state, according to a story in The Intercept.
Danielle Oxendine Molliver, a member of the Lumbee tribe from North Carolina, worked as the tribal liaison for the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the lead agency in shepherding the Enbridge Line 3 project through the regulatory process. Line 3 would carry tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin, traveling 337 miles through northern Minnesota.
Oxendine Molliver explained her decision to resign in a July 24 letter, quoted in The Intercept article.
“There are a multitude of reasons why I have come to this decision. The single most important one is the failure of the state of Minnesota to fulfill its obligations of good faith and fair dealing with the tribes in connection with the Line 3 project.”
She added, “I feel as though my resignation is the only option to maintain my integrity, commitment, and standing with the tribal communities as both a liaison and indigenous woman.”
It is the latest controversy over Enbridge Line 3. In related news, the first non-violent direct action against Enbridge Line 3 is set for Cloquet this Monday. Here is a link to the event page.
Enbridge has several tar sands crude oil pipelines running through Minnesota. Line 3 is old and failing. Enbridge wants to abandon the old Line 3 in the ground and install a new and larger pipeline along a new route. The new pipeline would cross the Mississippi River twice, once at the headwaters and once near Big Sandy Lake. The pipeline would threaten important wild rice areas.
From an energy security standpoint, this pipeline is unnecessary. The United States is importing and producing so much crude oil we are now a gasoline exporter. Line 3 is about corporate profits from petroleum exports, not our energy independence.
Significantly, the pipeline would violate treaties that allow the Anishinaabe to hunt, fish and gather along the pipeline’s proposed route. A pipeline rupture would damage those rights. In an odd twist, the Minnesota Department of Commerce is overseeing the environmental review for the tar sands pipeline. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA) have back seat roles.
Reduced to Coffee and Cookie Detail
I recommend reading the entire article in The Intercept. Here is one incident that is particularly telling.
According to the article:
Oxendine Molliver was working for the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, but was “recruited and loaned to the Commerce Department” to ensure tribal perspectives were included in the Line 3 process. Part of her job included attending public hearings around the state where she could answer people’s questions about how Line 3 would affect Native nations. Prior to the first public hearing on Line 3’s draft environmental impact statement (EIS), Oxendine Molliver got called on the carpet.
She learned from superiors that Enbridge officials saw a video of a meeting she had with the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and it concerned Enbridge that she was biased. Enbridge apparently raised concerns with Governor Dayton’s Office.
What conversations did or did not take place between state higher ups remains murky. But according to Oxendine Molliver, she was told that instead of answering questions at the public hearings, she would be a greeter, directing guests to coffee and cookies.
The Governor’s office declined to comment to The Intercept. In a statement to The Intercept, Ross Corson, the director of communications for Minnesota’s Commerce Department, said in part:
In this process, the agencies do not advocate for a particular position, but must act as impartial fact-finders for the [Public Utilities] commission, which also extends to the role of the tribal liaison. Complaints about any possible bias are treated seriously.
Comment: Healing Minnesota Stories emailed the Department of Commerce to give staff the opportunity to refute Oxendine Molliver’s account. For instance, we asked whether Commerce staff had reduced her role at public hearings from a professional to a service role. If that were true, we asked for the rationale.
Commerce’s emailed response failed to address that question.
[Update: The response included the following: “Because Minnesota has strict state laws related to the privacy of information about state employees (whether current or former), the Commerce Department is limited in what it can say about the allegations that Danielle Molliver is making about her work.”]
Let’s take Commerce at its word that impartiality is a prime value and Oxendine Molliver had crossed a line. At a minimum, Commerce’s response seems like bad management. If managers believe employees aren’t meeting job standards, they should set performance goals and provide training. You don’t humiliate people by putting them on cookie detail. That seems like a blatant effort to weaken staff spirits and staff voices.
We asked Commerce three other questions:
- Are there any facts the Department disputes regarding The Intercept’s story?
- What contact did Enbridge officials have with Department of Commerce officials regarding their concerns with Oxendine Molliver’s performance? How was that communicated and what was said?
- What contact did the Governor’s office have with the Department of Commerce regarding concerns with Oxendine Molliver’s performance? How was that communicated and what was said?
Commerce sent us the verbatim response it already had sent to The Intercept. You can read our questions and the Department of Commerce Response here.
Who is Looking Out for Native Interests?
Given the incredibly painful history of broken treaties and Native American genocide in this country, it doesn’t seem like too much of an ask to have someone dedicated to advocate on behalf of Native interests in these matters. The federal government has a duty to help Native nations under what is known as “federal Indian trust responsibility.” According to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs:
The federal Indian trust responsibility is a legal obligation under which the United States “has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust” toward Indian tribes. … Over the years, the trust doctrine has been at the center of numerous … Supreme Court cases, thus making it one of the most important principles in federal Indian law.
The federal Indian trust responsibility is also a legally enforceable fiduciary obligation on the part of the United States to protect tribal treaty rights, lands, assets, and resources, as well as a duty to carry out the mandates of federal law with respect to American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and villages.
The state might side step this issue, saying this is a federal role, not Commerce’s. But the draft EIS says the project would violate treaty rights. See the Environmental Justice section, Chapter 11, pages 7 and 13:
Wild rice is both a source of income and subsistence for the tribes in the area. These treaty rights and tribal resources are important to the Indian tribes as both natural and cultural resources and reinforce their cultural identity. Additionally, the mental well-being of Indian tribal members is linked to their tribal resources and access to their treaty rights. …
… any of the routes, route segments, and system alternatives would have a long-term detrimental effect on tribal members as a result of [Line 3] crossing treaty lands …The combination of tribal identity and relationship to the land and the rights tribal members have in the ceded territories complicates the traditional notion of mitigation. The ceded territories and the rights that go with them are not mobile and cannot be transferred. Tribal impacts are magnified because there would be impacts associated with abandonment and removal of the existing Line 3 and there would be additional impacts associated with the replacement of Line 3 in a new location.
Treaty obligations override any state law or regulation. Where in the Line 3 process has this trust responsibility applied?
The final EIS is expected to be released tomorrow. We will see what revisions have been made.
The Impact of “Man Camps”
Here is a different slant on the question of bias. The Department of Commerce was put in charge of the EIS for Enbridge Line 3, not agencies like the DNR or the PCA that have expertise in environmental issues. This choice seems to create the impression of a systematic bias towards commerce and business interests over environmental interests.
Here is one disturbing example of what seems like “Enbridge bias” in the draft EIS released by Commerce. In its Environmental Justice analysis of Line 3 (Chapter 11, page 10), it says the following:
Other concerns during construction are the influx of temporary workers and associated impacts, such as sex trafficking and sexual abuse in local communities. Increases in sex trafficking, particularly among Native populations, are well documented. … American Indian and minority populations are often at higher risk if they are low-income, homeless, have a lack of resources, addiction, and other factors often found in tribal communities. … The addition of a temporary, cash-rich workforce increases the likelihood that sex trafficking or sexual abuse will occur. Additionally, rural areas often do not have the resources necessary to detect and prevent these activities.
However, Enbridge can prepare and implement an education plan or awareness campaign around this issue with the companies and subcontractors that construct, restore, and operate the pipeline, as well as by working with local communities and tribal communities to raise awareness and provide resources to address the issue.
Comment: This response is naive at best. The Department of Commerce is accepting a very flawed explanation of how to stop sex trafficking. The idea that education and awareness campaign would make a difference is ridiculous. If it were true, the question is why haven’t pipeline companies and others deploying man camps done it before?
The draft EIS acknowledges that rural communities lack the resources necessary to address sex trafficking and sex abuse. Then it says Enbridge would “provide resources,” but offers no plan or amount.
Most disturbing, this statement shows that the authors talked to Enbridge about sex trafficking and sex abuse, but apparently didn’t bother to get a response from Anishinaabe communities (also known as Chippewa and Ojibwe). If they asked the Anishinaabe whether they thought better education programs for man camps would stop sex trafficking, it is not reflected in the draft EIS.
The report’s authors seem to accept Enbridge’s assurance that everything would be OK with no counter narrative. That seems like bias.
Following department bias protocol, who gets demoted this time to the coffee-and-cookie detail?