Corporate Clout Used Against Environmental Defenders

News wrap: Three stories on extractive industries that deserve attention.

  • Enbridge spends liberally to influence the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC)
  • Polymet coopts a beloved state institution, stifling dissent.
  • Federal judge puts the brakes on oil and gas drilling in the western United States

Enbridge Buys Influence

Enbridge Energy Partners spent more than $11 million lobbying in Minnesota in 2018, almost all on successfully influencing the PUC to approve the expansion of its Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline, MPR reports. That made Enbridge the top spender in the state, according to reports filed with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board in 2018. It’s more than double the $5.3 million Enbridge spent in 2017 when it also led in lobby spending.

Mining Company Coopts Iconic State Event

Stopping Polymet’s proposed copper-nickel mine in northern Minnesota is a big issue in Indian Country. The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and environmental groups have asked for reevaluation of the PolyMet proposal over design flaw concerns.

Anyone who watched the State High School Hockey Tournament this month got a heavy does of PolyMet propaganda; it drew criticism. Jon Tevlin’s March 13 StarTribune piece, PolyMet used boys’ hockey tournament to burnish image quotes Aaron Klemz, communications director for Friends of Boundary Waters Wilderness:

“PolyMet is a Canadian company. Their largest investor is a Swiss commodities trading firm [Glencore], with a poor environmental and human rights record, and who has an agreement to sell copper concentrate to China. The choice to wrap PolyMet in a Minnesota tradition is a PR move to conceal those facts.”

Jaci Christenson and John Doberstein were part of a small group of people who tried to stage a low-key protest at one of the hockey games.They wrote about it in a March 14 MinnPost story: At high-school hockey, our stop-PolyMet message was a no go while the company’s ads were omnipresent.

People in their group took off their top layer of outerwear to reveal yellow t-shirts with black letters spelling out “#STOP POLYMET.”  In about 10 minutes, a facility manager with two St. Paul police officers told them they had to cover up their t-shirts or be evicted, they said.

That’s an embarrassment for the State High School Hockey Tournament, for the Xcel Energy Center, and for the St. Paul Police Department, for threatening to enforce such a ludicrous request.

Take your pick and write an email to any of the three or all. Here’s one I sent to the Xcel Energy Center at:

Subject Line: Seeking to understand your decision to threaten fans with ejection

Dear Xcel Energy staff,

I was deeply disturbed to read that you threatened fans with ejection from the State High School Hockey Tournament game simply for wearing political commentary on their t-shirts. (See MinnPost March 14: At high-school hockey, our stop-PolyMet message was a no go while the company’s ads were omnipresent.)

I doubt you would have asked someone to leave if they were wearing a Bernie hat or a MAGA hat or a Sierra Club hat or a PolyMet hat. But somehow you saw fit to use police to threaten fans with a political message — #STOP POLYMET — that was upsetting to an advertiser.

These seem like ads with too high a price. You shouldn’t sell your integrity. You’re selling promotional space, not police protection to silence dissent. And for that matter, you shouldn’t use St. Paul police to enforce such arbitrary and unreasonable policies. It makes them look bad, too.

Maybe I’m missing something. I look forward to your explanation.


Now for Some Good News

The Washington Post reports: Federal judge demands Trump administration reveal how its drilling plans will fuel climate change, a story that gives hope to those trying to stop Enbridge Line 3 based on the climate damage it would cause.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras of Washington took the Obama administration to task (yes, Obama) for 2015 and 2016 decisions to auction off federal land for oil and gas drilling in the western United States, the story said. “The judge temporarily blocked drilling on roughly 300,000 acres of land in the state.”

The decision could force the Trump administration to account for the climate damage the project’s could cause.

Opponents of Enbridge Line 3 tried to use a climate change argument to stop the PUC from approving the crude oil pipeline. The PUC rejected the argument, saying that pipelines don’t cause climate change, consumer oil demand causes climate change.

Contreras’ ruling seems to be a step in the right direction.

4 thoughts on “Corporate Clout Used Against Environmental Defenders

  1. Important post. But does Friends of the Boundary Waters really oppose Polymet? Or just Twin Metals? You should have quoted someone from Water Legacy or Duluth for Clean Water or one of the other orgs that have been seriously fighting Polymet.


    • Friends of the Boundary Waters is vigorously opposing PolyMet and have been very supportive of Duluth for Clean Water, including now in court. You may be thinking of the newer “Campaign to Save the BWCA,” which has publicly focused exclusively on the BWCA piece of this, and privately undermined the organizations trying to protect Lake Superior and the St. Louis River. The issues they have created are apparent even in your question. Thanks for you support!


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