Questions and Criticisms Abound in Enbridge Line 3’s ‘Tribal Economic Opportunity’ Plan

Enbridge’s promised $100 million in “tribal economic opportunity” as a part of its Line 3 crude oil pipeline project is still under review, well after the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has approved the project.

Enbridge’s jobs proposal had some PR appeal. The reasoning goes that since the Anishinaabe of northern Minnesota are bearing a disproportionate share of the project’s risks — oil spills, threats to wild rice, and the risk of increased assaults on women during pipeline construction — surely they should get something back.

But there is no guaranteed benefit for the Anishinaabe. Further, the PUC’s order has no enforcement mechanism or prescribed penalty if Enbridge fails to live up to its word.

Enbridge offered a vague and flawed jobs proposal. If history is prelude, the PUC will rubber stamp it.

Lack of Public Scrutiny

At the time of the PUC’s Line 3 hearings in June, the jobs program was a vague concept that got no public vetting.

Enbridge’s indigenous jobs plan was a last-minute proposal. It got no scrutiny during the public hearing process or the PUC’s Line 3 deliberations because it didn’t exist then. Now that the PUC vote is over, the jobs plan is still a work in progress and flying under the radar.

Quick background: In the run up to the PUC’s Line 3 vote in June, approval looked dicey for Enbridge. The Administrative Law Judge had recommended against its preferred route. The Minnesota Department of Commerce had recommended against approving its Certificate of Need. Scientists had estimated Line 3’s environmental damage at $287 billion over three decades. Native and environmental groups and faith communities had stated their strong opposition.

Weeks before the vote, Enbridge launched a last-ditch PR campaign. CEO Al Monaco announced a $100 million fund for Native American subcontractors and employment if the state approved the project. (It got the hoped for media splash, see for example this Star Tribune story.)

The PUC added Enbrdige’s jobs concept to Line 3’s route permit, requiring Enbridge to develop the plan. The PUC has done little if anything to strengthen the proposal, which was — and remains — vague.

No Guarantees on Anishinaabe Benefits

Enbridge released a more detailed plan in August, titled “Tribal Economic Opportunity and Labor Education Plan”  It gives Enbridge a lot of wiggle room. The plan says:

While preference will be given to Minnesota-based tribal members and businesses, non-Minnesota based tribal members and businesses are included in the $100 million target.

To repeat: Fairness would seem to require the affected Anishinaabe get a disproportionate amount of the benefit since they are bearing a disproportionate amount of the risk. As written, the PUC order has no such guarantee.

Honor the Earth filed a response to Enbridge’s plan Friday, chalk full of questions. For instance, it’s asking the PUC to clarify whether there is will be a certain percentage of the economic development and jobs going specifically to indigenous people in Minnesota (or whether it is whatever Enbridge says it should be).

Accountability Questions

The Oct. 26 PUC order has the flimsiest of accountability standards for the Line 3 jobs program. It says:
To monitor Enbridge’s pledges regarding economic development, the Commission will direct Enbridge to report annually on “the number of construction workers employed by the Project, identifying the number of total workers who are from Minnesota and who are members of Minnesota tribes.”
A report? That’s it? Not much accountability there.

Further, Enbridge refers to the $100 million as an “ambitious target” not a firm commitment.

Honor the Earth has detailed accountability questions, including whether documentation on Enbridge’s claimed job creation will be publicly available, and what role state agencies will play in verifying tribal qualifications.

Comment: The PUC order has no language about consequences if 1) Enbridge fails to meet the $100 million target, or 2) if a significant amount of the jobs and contracts go out to those from out of state.

Alternative Uses of the Money

Honor the Earth’s filing also presses the PUC to clarify how the money could be spent for other purposes, uses that would be healing in the affected Anishinaabe communities. For instance,

  • Is there any specific tribal renewable energy components as part of this plan?
  • How will Enbridge employ tribal members and businesses in ecosystem restoration and wild rice restoration?

Enbridge’s Empty Words

Enbridge’s jobs plan is a scant 12 pages long. Particularly jarring to read is the summary of Enbridge’s Indigenous Peoples Policy. According to the report, the policy’s purpose is to:

  • Acknowledge the history and diversity of Indigenous Peoples and recognize their distinct rights as protected by Canadian and U.S. laws;
  • Commit to consultation, engagement and the creation of positive, long-lasting mutually beneficial relationships (social, cultural, economic and environmental);
  • Recognize the importance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the role it plays in guiding Enbridge’s approach; and
  • Frame all commitments as a shared responsibility involving Enbridge and its affiliates, employees and contractors

Comment: There are legitimate unresolved treaty rights at stake, the right to hunt, fish and gather along property the Anishinaabe ceded to the U.S. government. These rights apply to lands the pipeline would cross. Both Enbridge and the PUC failed to acknowledge such rights exist or even that this is an open legal question. The Anishinaabe nations of Red Lake, White Earth, Fond du Lac, Leech Lake and Mille Lacs all opposed Line 3 during the public hearing process as did Honor the Earth.

Enbridge’s words purporting to honor indigenous rights are more smoke than substance.

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