Honor the Earth denounces MN Supreme Court action for failing to protect indigenous rights

The Minnesota Supreme Court today declined to review a case that could have required the state to complete a traditional cultural property survey before it could permit large construction projects such as the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline.

“We are profoundly disappointed that the Minnesota Supreme Court felt more interested in siding with the rights of a Canadian corporation to proceed with a high-risk project than protecting the rights of the Minnesota Anishinabe and indigenous people and the rights of nature,” Winona LaDuke, Co-founder and Executive Director of Honor the Earth said in a statement.

File: Winona LaDuke

Enbridge has proposed building a 340-mile tar sands crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, a line that would cross more than 200 lakes, streams and rivers. The project would threaten Minnesota’s clean waters, treaty rights, and global climate damage.

Line 3 opponents filed three separate lawsuits with the Minnesota Court of Appeals seeking to reverse the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s Line 3 approvals. This case is the first of those three and focused on Line 3’s environmental impact statement.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals heard the case earlier this year. It ruled in favor of Line 3 opponents in one key aspect: It said the Line 3 environmental impact statement failed to consider the impact of a crude oil spill in the Lake Superior watershed.

The Court rejected other key arguments. Line 3 opponents had argued the environmental impact statement failed to adequately analyze route alternatives to Enbridge’s preferred route. They also argued the PUC shouldn’t have approved Line 3’s environmental impact statement before the “traditional cultural properties survey” was complete. (Such a survey makes sure projects such as Line 3 take into account potential damage to places of historic and cultural significance.)

Honor the Earth appealed to the Supreme Court in an effort to force the state to give more weight to the traditional cultural properties survey.

The Supreme Court declined to even hear the case.

Here is Honor the Earth’s full statement:

CALLAWAY, MINN., — September 17, 2019 – The Minnesota Supreme Court today declined to review a decision by the Court of Appeals that the State of Minnesota need not conduct a Tribal Cultural Properties Survey in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Enbridge’s controversial Line 3 in northern Minnesota.  This decision allows state agencies to not conduct on-the-ground surveys before permitting construction projects that may destroy native cultural properties.  Honor the Earth, the Red Lake, White Earth and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center each petitioned the Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeal’s disregard for native rights.

On August 8, 2018, the Bands filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. On June 3, 2019, the Court of Appeals issued its opinion finding that the EIS was inadequate on the limited grounds that it did not address the potential impact of an oil spill into the Lake Superior watershed. But it rejected the Band’s argument that the EIS was inadequate because it failed to include a complete analysis of the potential impacts to Traditional Cultural Properties (TCPs) of the Bands.  Today’s action by the Supreme Court refused to even hear arguments on this claim.

According to White Earth attorney, Frank Bibeau, and language in the Supreme Court petition, the Bands emphasized that many of these resources are not identifiable through standard written archeological and historical sources. Instead, they require on-the-ground surveys, because archeological records are not comprehensive. 

In preliminary documents, the PUC committed to identify cultural resources, including archaeological resources, historic resources, and sacred places in the EIS. These should have been evaluated via actual on-the-ground surveys for Enbridge’s preferred route and route alternatives, so that the PUC could chose the route with the least impact on native peoples.

Instead, the PUC relied on incomplete paper records before choosing a route and finding a need to build a new pipeline to feed overseas exports.  According to federal data, the US now exports 8.7 million barrels of oil every day.   This volume amounts to 42 percent of total US domestic consumption and is over three times more oil than is  brought into the US by Enbridge from Canada. The PUC found that the State of Minnesota preferred to support additional exports rather than protect Minnesota’s Anishinaabe people from the harm caused by the Line 3.

“We are profoundly disappointed that the Minnesota Supreme Court felt more interested in siding with the rights of a Canadian corporation to proceed with a high-risk project than protecting the rights of the Minnesota Anishinabe and indigenous people and the rights of nature,” said Winona LaDuke, Co-founder and Executive Director of Honor the Earth said.

“This decision  leaves open the door to further destruction of native properties and cultural and religious resources like the graves that were destroyed during construction of Minnesota Highway 23 in Duluth, which happened because the Department of Transportation did not consult with the Fond du Lac Band and conduct an on-the-ground survey before the bulldozers rolled.” She added, “We will proceed with all other legal challenges and every permitting process required by regulatory agencies to protect our water.”

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