An Open Letter to Gov. Walz on Line 3, its public purpose, its costs and benefits, and needed action

Dear Gov. Walz:

Your voice and leadership matter in the debate over the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

You have given Minnesotans the impression that you have no authority to intervene. While you can’t snap your fingers and stop the project, you have more power than you’re letting on. You oversee agencies charged with making sure Enbridge meets all state environmental requirements in the pipeline’s construction and operation. You have the bully pulpit to let citizens know your candid views.

Last year, you told Minnesotans that Line 3 needed not just a building permit, but a “social permit.” We need to hear from you the specific conditions Line 3 must meet to secure such a “social permit.” At a minimum, it should include transparency. So far, the Line 3’s public record is both voluminous and technical, often leading to more confusion than clarity. The state needs to make a clear statement, in lay terms that people can understand, about the project’s public purpose and its costs and benefits. We have yet to get such a statement. Citizens deserve it.

I offer the following summary of Line 3’s public purpose, its costs and benefits, and critiques of the process. I also include specific actions you could take that would move this state in a good direction.

Line 3’s Public Purpose

The threshold question of whether or not to approve a new and larger tar sands oil pipeline through northern Minnesota is whether the state and region need the pipeline. If the answer is yes, then we move to the question of Line 3’s costs and benefits. But in this case, we don’t have to go that far. Your Minnesota Department of Commerce concluded that Enbridge failed to show Line 3 is needed to meet our regional oil demand.

Bottom line: If we don’t need a pipeline, Line 3 doesn’t meet its fundamental public purpose.

Your Action: Last year, you allowed the Minnesota Department of Commerce to pursue a lawsuit to overturn Line 3’s Certificate of Need. Because of a recent court ruling, Commerce needs to refile its appeal. You need to “bully-pulpit-up” and publicly restate support for the lawsuit. It would be consistent with your past actions. It would be an opportunity for you to speak on the project’s many risks.

Analysis of Line 3’s costs and benefits

Consider the major costs and benefits of Line 3 offered by advocates on both sides. The analysis still comes out the same: Line 3 should be rejected.

Line 3’s Benefits

  1. Construction workers would get good-paying jobs.
  2. Cash-strapped northern Minnesota counties would get property tax revenues.
  3. Enbridge would shut down the existing and deteriorating Line 3.
  4. Enbridge, oil producers and shippers would get the extra pipeline capacity they want.

Line 3’s Costs

  1. Line 3 would create climate damage worldwide.
  2. It would harm Minnesota’s cleanest waters both in its construction and operation.
  3. It would put a disproportionate burden on Indigenous peoples and violate treaty rights.
  4. The pipeline isn’t needed and would create unnecessary risks.

The political driving force behind the project are Line 3’s ancillary benefits, including new construction jobs and county property tax revenues. While these are benefits, they don’t justify building a pipeline we don’t need.

You wouldn’t allow a Canadian company to build a coal-fired power plant in Bemidji or Stillwater — a power plant the state didn’t need — just because it would generate construction jobs and property tax revenue. That wouldn’t make sense. Neither does approving Line 3.

Another benefit offered by project backers — shutting down the existing and failing Line 3 — can be accomplished without approving a new and unnecessary pipeline.

Here are the details.

Jobs and property tax revenue

Existing (orange) and proposed (green) Line 3 routes.

Line 3 would require up to 4,200 construction workers over one year, half coming from local union halls. Long-term, there would be only “a small number” of permanent jobs. As discussed below, every Line 3 construction job created would translate into millions of dollars in long-term climate damage. Line 3 sacrifices long-term prosperity for short-term gain.

Some northern Minnesota counties crossed by Enbridge’s Mainline Corridor depend on Enbridge’s property tax revenue. Line 3 is part of that revenue. It’s a benefit, but it’s not sustainable revenue. In the coming years, fossil fuels will fizzle, Enbridge will shut down its pipelines, and those property taxes will dry up. Besides, we shouldn’t rely on dangerous and unneeded projects to fund county government.

Your Action: There’s a legitimate need for more good-paying jobs in northern Minnesota. Approving Line 3 is an incredibly expensive way to do it. If Line 3’s “public purpose” is job creation, which it appears to be, then open a broader public debate about job creation. Surely there are less expensive and more just ways to create good-paying jobs.

Shutting down the existing Line 3

Line 3 backers have created a false narrative around public safety that’s persuasive because it’s partially true. There’s little disagreement that the existing Line 3 is deteriorating badly. Enbridge is currently under a federal Consent Decree to apply to replace the existing Line 3 because the federal government knows its falling apart. Line 3 backers want us to believe that in order to shut down the existing Line 3 we must approve the new Line 3. We don’t.

The way Enbridge has framed the issue, it won’t take the existing Line 3 out of service unless the state approves the new Line 3. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) perceived it as something of a hostage situation: “Give us the new pipeline or your environment gets it!” In fact, one Commissioner said he felt like the PUC had a “gun to our head” to approve the project.

The PUC buckled. It took responsibility for something over which it had no authority. The federal government is responsible for the existing Line 3’s safety. The PUC could have chosen to reject Line 3 and directed the federal government to take corrective action on the existing Line 3. It did not.

Your Action: Explain to the public that the decision to shut down the existing Line 3 is independent of the decision to approve a new Line 3.

Environmental Impacts

Line 3 would cross 79 miles of wetlands. For comparison, its 82 miles from Mankato to Minneapolis. (Map by http://www.distance-cities.com)

Enbridge admitted it can’t build the new Line 3 and meet all of Minnesota’s water quality standards because of northern Minnesota’s water-rich environment. Minnesota Rules say pipeline routes should avoid wetlands, streams, and areas with high water tables.

Line 3 would cross more than 200 streams and other water bodies. It would cross the Mississippi River twice, including the headwaters. Roughly 79 miles of the proposed Line 3 route would cross wetlands — more than one fifth of its entire 355-mile route.

For comparison, it’s 82 miles from your home town of Mankato to Minneapolis. Imagine driving it and for just about the entire time you’re passing through wetlands. That’s how much wetlands Line 3 would cross. That’s not a route that avoids wetlands.

The Line 3 environmental impact statement did a poor job assessing oil spill damages. It failed to give dollar estimates for spill impacts on fish, wild rice, tourism, drinking water, critical habitat, and more. That makes a cost-benefit analysis impossible. History and common sense say when spills happen, there will be costs. All pipelines leak, even new ones. Since the Keystone Pipeline opened in 2010, it’s had spills of 16,800 gallons, 210,000 gallons, and 383,000 gallon from 2016-2019.

Your Action: Publicly direct the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to follow the strongest science on Line 3’s water crossing permits. Publicly acknowledge the MPCA’s authority to deny Line 3 permits if Enbridge can’t meet state standards. (Oregon’s environmental regulators stopped the Jordan Cove natural gas pipeline based based on these same water permits.)

Indigenous Impacts

Line 3 would go through wild rice country. Map: DNR

Governor, last year you issued an executive order committing the state to building stronger relationships with Minnesota’s Native Nations and engaging in meaningful consultation. It was issued after most of the Line 3 proceedings and didn’t cover the PUC, but the PUC’s actions should be fair game for comment. The executive order is an important statement of your and Minnesota’s values. The Line 3 proceedings did not live up to those values.

During Line 3 hearings, Anishinaabe bands repeatedly raised concerns about Line 3’s threats to water and wild rice and the increased risks of more Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. The state’s analysis said Line 3 would put a disproportionate burden on Native peoples. A fair reading of Line 3’s record shows that the PUC didn’t engage Tribal Nations in “meaningful consultation.” The  approach seem more like old school “divide-and-conquer” tactics. Red Lake, White Earth and the Mille Lacs have continued to oppose the project, filing lawsuits to overturn the PUC’s decisions. More suits are expected.

Some Tribal Nations argued that the new Line 3 would violate their treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather on lands they ceded to the U.S. government. The PUC can’t decide treaty issues; federal courts decide treaty issues. The PUC lacks the expertise and authority. Yet the PUC somehow felt it could approve Line 3 permits without making sure treaty issues were resolved. Why is the default assumption that treaty rights don’t exist? The PUC could have just as easily approved Line 3 conditioned on resolving treaty issues in federal court. It did not.

Your Action: The PUC’s process sends the wrong message about our state’s commitment to improve State-Tribal relations. Publicly state your support for resolving treaty disputes before Enbridge can start building Line 3. Give us your candid opinion about whether the PUC engaged in “meaningful consultation” with Tribal Nations.

Climate Damage

Line 3 would create $287 billion in climate damage over three decades, the environmental impact statement estimated. There is no policy the state could approve that would have as much positive impact on reducing climate damage as stopping this unneeded pipeline.

The PUC rejected the climate damage estimate, stating two reasons: 1) Even if the PUC denied Line 3 permits, the oil would get to market anyway, so climate damage would happen regardless, and 2) Climate damage studies use proprietary models which can’t be checked and they come up with different numbers.

In the face of the climate crisis, the PUC took a fatalistic stance, assuming it was powerless to make a difference. This is about leadership. If we approve Line 3, we are complicit with the climate damage it would create. If we don’t approve Line 3 and some other entity chooses to move the oil to market, that moral responsibility is on them, not Minnesota. We have to use the power we have to do what we can.

Further, the tar sands oil won’t necessarily get to market if the state rejects Line 3. Markets and government policies already are shifting. The New York Times article Global Financial Giants Swear Off Funding an Especially Dirty Fuel says some of the world’s largest financial institutions have stopped funding tar sands oil production in Alberta. Last month Teck Resources withdrew its request for Canada’s approval for its Frontier Mine, a proposed multi-billion dollar Alberta tar sands mine. According to Global News of Canada: “The project had been billed by proponents as a litmus test of sorts for whether large-scale natural resource projects — specifically, those in the oil and gas sector — can get built under a government that has made tackling climate change a major part of their political agenda.”

Lastly, if the PUC was concerned about different studies giving different estimates on climate damage, then it should have given a range of estimates to consider. With no scientific expertise of its own, the PUC rejected climate damage altogether, effectively putting the number at $0. That’s inconsistent with your agencies’ expert analysis, Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s Finds of Fact and Recommendations on Line 3 and common sense.

Now return to the question of job creation. Assume Line 3 creates the maximum 4,200 construction jobs. Assume Line 3’s long-term climate damage is only $143 billion, or half the projected damage in the environmental impact statement. That means each construction job comes with a $34 million climate damage price tag, and that’s not factoring in costs from pipeline leaks and spills the state’s analysis failed to cost out. Even if the long-term climate cost were $1 million per construction job, would it be worth it?

Your Action: Be a leader on reducing climate damage. Use your platform to talk about the pipeline’s risks to climate, risks identified by your administration. You would be in good company. Similar to Oregon, New York State used water permits to stop the Constitution Pipeline. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who opposed the fracked natural gas pipeline, had said: “any way we that can challenge it, we will.”

The PUC repeatedly rejected state experts on core issues

To reiterate, the PUC rejected your administration’s climate change analysis. It rejected the Department of Commerce’s analysis that found Enbridge failed to show Line 3 is needed. It also dismissed the most important conclussion from O’Reilly’s report. O’Reilly took extensive public and expert testimony on Line 3 on behalf of the PUC. She concluded that, as proposed, Line 3’s costs outweighed its benefits. (See Page 9.) These will be a source of ongoing litigation.

Your Action: Publicly support an injunction on Line 3 construction as long as lawsuits to stop it are pending.

Nowhere in Line 3’s lengthy record has the state provided this kind of synthesis of Line 3’s costs and benefits and a statement of public purpose. Governor, do you agree or disagree with this assessment? If you agree, please take the recommended actions. If you disagree, provide the public with your own analysis along these lines.

From the facts, it makes no sense to approve this pipeline. As the state’s top political leader, we need to know where you stand.

Sincerely,

Scott Russell
Minneapolis

3 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Gov. Walz on Line 3, its public purpose, its costs and benefits, and needed action

  1. First 3 sections are especially powerful! Later on the comparison using the area covered driving
    from Mankato as equal to the huge expanse of wetlands in danger is also an eye opener. Is there a way to provide a similar comparison of short-term revenue gained by the building of the line to the amount that would be needed by the region to create permanent, sustainable industries?

    Like

  2. I attended the public hearings on the proposed Line 3 held by the PUC. It was shocking to hear the unanimous approval of the permit for Enbridge to build this monstrosity. The testimony against permitting the new line was overwhelmingly pursuasive on many counts, any one of which could stand alone as a reason to deny its construction. I am not Minnesota born and raised, but I have made it my adopted home state. This is a land of stunning beauty. We are the custodians here of twenty percent of the world’s unpolluted water. Yet those in charge of protecting our precious waters and wild lands seem to be determined to destroy it all- and for what? Thank you to Scott Russell for his clear analysis of the folly of building the proposed Line 3. Let’s continue to bring our case to our elected officials, including Governor Walz, and to educate the public about the dangers of this disastrous project.

    Like

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