The state has failed to clearly state Enbridge Line 3’s public purpose. That needs to change.

This is the first of a two-part critique of the state of Minnesota’s Line 3 decision-making process.

Through years of debate about the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline, citizens of the state of Minnesota have not received a clear, concise statement of if and why this project is in the public interest. The following summarizes the benefits claimed by Line 3 proponents, and  critiques them and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) process.

New Line 3 route.

The Enbridge Line 3 debate generated voluminous public and expert testimony,  reports, environmental impact statements, lawsuits and more. Only well-paid lobbyists and highly-dedicated young people have had the time to keep up with this massive record.

Boil it all down, and Line 3 proponents offer four major benefits.

  1. Enbridge would take the old and failing Line 3 out of service if the state allows it to build a new Line 3.
  2. Enbridge and crude oil shippers want and need more pipeline capacity.
  3. Pipeline fitters and other workers want and need the good-paying jobs this massive construction project would provide.
  4. Revenue-strapped northern Minnesota counties want the property tax revenues from the new pipeline.

Let’s take them in order.

Existing Line 3: One of the realities of this lengthy process is that the amount of paper and testimony generated has little relationship to the real issues driving the PUC’s decision.

Former Commissioner Dan Lipschultz famously said the PUC had a “gun to the head” to approve the new Line 3 in order to remove the existing and dangerous Line 3, an imminent spill risk. During the PUC’s recent meeting to approve a revised environmental impact statement and reapprove key Line 3 permits, Chair Katie Seiben and Commissioner Valerie Means leaned heavily on this argument.

“I think replacing and old aging pipeline with a new pipeline is the safest and most rational option for protecting the environment and communities and for protecting the standard of life in those communities,” Means said.

With this being such a pivotal issue, how is it that the PUC failed to analyze the state’s legal options to shut down the existing Line 3? The federal government, not the PUC, has oversight of the existing Line 3. If the PUC is concerned about the safety of the existing Line 3, one option would be to work with the federal government to take action, not bowing to Enbridge’s perceived threat. According to the lengthy public record, the PUC never examined its options, assuming itself to be powerless.

Enbridge’s capacity: Enbridge says it has more shipping demand from Canadian oil producers than its pipelines can handle. The PUC’s   Line 3 record includes a lot of technical arguments on oil supply and shipping contracts. Yet if this debate was simply about whether or not the state of Minnesota should allow Enbridge and Canadian oil producers to make more money by building a pipeline through Minnesota’s cleanest waters, politicians would have an easy “no.”

The Minnesota Department of Commerce has made clear that Minnesota and the Upper Midwest are in good shape for oil supply. It’s taken the extraordinary step to sue the PUC to reverse Line 3’s Certificate of Need. We don’t need this pipeline. The pipeline capacity issue has very little to do with Line 3’s political calculations.

Hundreds packed a June, 2017 public comment period on Line 3 in Bemidji. Those in yellow shirts are construction workers.

Jobs: At its core, Line 3’s political support comes from job creation. The lengthy record has minimal information on jobs compared to other issues. Line 3 is projected to create thousands of temporary jobs and very few permanent jobs. Construction workers argue that all construction jobs are temporary, and these are well paying jobs. Construction workers have shown up at Line 3 public hearings to support the project.

If Line 3 is a jobs program, then let’s have an honest debate about a jobs program. People up north deserve living wage jobs. These Line 3 jobs come with a particularly high price tag. The environmental impact statement estimates the oil in Line 3 would generate $287 billion in climate damage over three decades. Those costs are shifted to people worldwide, some who are very poor. Line 3 also creates long-term environmental risks from spills. Surely there’s a less expensive and more just way to address the very legitimate issue of job creation.

County Revenue: Again, the record has a few references to Line 3’s impact on bolstering county property tax revenue. From a political standpoint, it’s generated support for the project. This raises a similar question to job creation: Is approving a dangerous pipeline how we want to fund county government in this state?

Line 3 is far from a done deal. It still faces significant legal challenges and needs a water quality (Section 401) permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. That permit will be contested.

The following blog will synthesize PUC’s shortcomings in assessing Line 3’s harms, including treaty violations.

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