Day Four of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) deliberations on Enbridge Line 3 included concerns about possible civil disobedience after the vote, how law enforcement should respond, and plans to mitigate the sex trafficking and drug problems that can follow these large construction projects.
It was a discouraging day in some ways. The PUC has two key votes to make: the Certificate of Need and the Route Permit. If the PUC denies the Certificate of Need, there is no reason to vote on the Route Permit. Yet for the past day and a half, the PUC has discussed route options and contingency plans. Commissioners have said they haven’t made up their minds on the Certificate of Need, but as discussions drag on about route options, it seems to push them in the direction of approving the line.
Here are four takeaways from Wednesday’s hearing.
1. The Issue of “Civic Disruption” Enters the Debate
PUC Chair Nancy Lange discussed the elephant in the room when she said: “What concerns me is permitting something that creates civic disruption.”
Her comments were part of a discussions of an alternative pipeline route, “RA-04.” It takes a long swing south of Clearbrook, looping north of St. Cloud and south of Lake Mille Lacs. It bends back northeast, passing by Hinkley and connecting to Superior.
RA-04 It is a much longer route than Enbridge’s preferred route, but Lange wondered if it would be less controversial. She asked Enbridge about the possibility of choosing “a different route that may not create as much civic disruption, or cultural disruption.”
Lange asked Enbridge representatives how changing routes would affect its construction schedule. Enbridge attorney Christina Brusven said it would delay work “multiple construction seasons,” and require purchasing a new set of land easements. Lange reminded her that Enbridge knew it was taking a risk buying easements on its preferred Line 3 route before knowing if it would be approved.
Comment: I don’t give Alternative Route 04 much of a chance of passing. It has other drawbacks. It is much longer, increasing the spill risk. It passes by more population centers. That said, a number of parties have said Enbridge’s preferred route is the worst option, so some alternative route is not out of the question.
2. Police Response Plan For Protests Gets Aired, Gets Push Back
Commissioner John Tuma presented detailed public safety plans he wanted included as conditions for Line 3 approval. He criticized the private security response to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
I was not impressed with what happened out there. This is the United States of America. Our citizens in Minnesota have a right to protest. An absolute right. I want the company to commit to us that they will recognized that right.
Tuma asked the unions and Enbridge to commit to several permit conditions. First, that a liaison with expertise in security would oversee the security companies. The liaison would make sure the security firms were licensed in Minnesota and oversee their records. Further, before construction could start in any county, the elected county sheriff would have to approve that security plan for that county.
Significantly, Tuma asked for Enbridge to create a fund — overseen by an independent party — that could support municipalities that “experience additional needs for providing security in and about the construction site.”
Enbridge and labor seemed to be on board with Tuma’s request. Kevin Pranis of the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota, tried to be reassuring. He told the Commission: Enbridge would handle Line 3 very differently from how Energy Transfer Partners handled the Dakota Access Pipeline.
That triggered a strong response from Winona LaDuke, founder of Honor the Earth:
I am under great duress listening to this discussion. I was a woman who was at Standing Rock. I was not shot. I was not arrested. But my family was shot. My family was arrested.
And when they put the dogs on us September 4th, that was after Enbridge purchased 28 percent of the Dakota Access Pipeline. I called Enbridge. I called their community relations officer and I asked them to call off the dogs. I asked them to demilitarize the situation knowing full well that Enbridge had in fact stabilized Energy Transfer Partners which was looking for money.
I asked them to use their Aboriginal People’s Policy which they have been talking about. I asked them to complete a full consultation process … I got no response from Enbridge. We have no confidence in this. …
I find it of deep concern you are talking about how many police you will have … How to ensure there are enough large weapons to be used against us and how it is going to be financed. I don’t see any other message that is coming out of the commission. …
We only have experience with Enbridge on the other end of a gun. We just went through it in North Dakota. I know you do not want to be North Dakota. The only way you are not be North Dakota is to not sell us out to a Canadian pipeline corporation.
Comment: Tuma was very complimentary of LaDuke, going as far as to call her a “prophet.” It is unclear if he is going to follow this prophet. He was passionate about his security plan. He told LaDuke: “I have a sworn duty to uphold the law. I will do that the best that I can.”
3. Addressing Construction-Related Sex Trafficking and Drugs
Tuma acknowledged that sex and drug trafficking come hand-in-hand with large construction projects. He proposed a funding plan to deal with these issues similar to his plan for supporting police response to civil disobedience. He proposed Enbridge contribute to an independent fund to help local communities with “enforcement on the ground to address sex trafficking and drug trafficking around these things.” Independent liaisons would make recommendations on how to distribute the money.
Tuma referred to problems with “man camps,” a comment that drew a protest from Pranis. The final Administrative Law Judge report didn’t find evidence associating sex trafficking and pipeline projects, he said. Unions are committed to addressing this issue, but he asked the PUC not to include anything in their final decision or conditions that would “smear” their local members.
Brent Murcia of the Youth Climate Intervenors observed from past testimony that Enbridge didn’t have a plan for how it would deal with sex trafficking issues. Further, the company had committed to provide a plan for parties to review during Line 3 deliberations. “That has unfortunately not happened,” Murcia said.
Sheila Lamb, a Youth Climate Intervenor’s expert witnesses, spoke to the Commission about the deep connections these issue have with the intergenerational trauma suffered by Native peoples.
Comment: The Final Environmental Impact Statement on Line 3 discusses the link between sex trafficking and large construction projects, (Chapter 11 page 20-21):
Concerns have been raised regarding the link between an influx of temporary workers and the potential for an associated increase in sex trafficking, which is well documented, particularly among Native populations (National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center 2016). 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 (MDH 2014). 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.
It’s discouraging that Enbridge hasn’t come up with a plan as promised.
4. PUC Not Taking “No” for an Answer
Commissioner Dan Lipschultz kept pressing tribal representatives to pick a route alternative that is the least bad of bad options. It’s as “no pipeline” wasn’t a sufficient answer. Joe Plummer, attorney for White Earth and Red Lake, put it this way:
The northern part of the state is virtually all treaty ceded territory where the Anishinaabe have off-reservation gathering rights. …
The way that the Anishinaabe people feel, culturally, this is a very hard thing to take. Close to the animals, close to the water, and close to the wild rice — this pipeline goes right through it and jeopardizes all of it. The narrow range of options that we have been looking at go right through this area. I think it is a terrible idea. …
The evidence on the record does not support the need for a new pipeline.
Comment: The PUC doesn’t need to get into the minutia of route options. It should reject the pipeline, just like LaDuke and Plummer have argued.
Day Five of the PUC deliberations starts at 11 a.m. today.