The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has posted a video on its website which can only be called a PR win for the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline, reassuring the public that everything’s going to be OK.
The MPCA’s mission statement is supposed to be “to protect and improve the environment and human health.” The MPCA has lost its way. Somehow it has come to believe that Enbridge, a Canadian corporation, is its main customer. Enbridge is not its main customer. It’s customers are the citizens of Minnesota and the environment that MPCA is charged with protecting.
The MPCA’s video is an example of “corporate capture,” a term used to describe how economic elites undermine human rights and the environment “by exerting undue influence over domestic and international decision-makers and public institutions.”Enbridge Line 3 would cross northern Minnesota, border to border, carrying 760,000 barrels of toxic tars sands oil daily. It would require opening up a brand new pipeline corridor for a portion of its route and pass through some of the state’s cleanest waters.
The MPCA undoubtedly would defend its video as simply public information about its water quality review process. Yet it has a number of messages and images that reflect conscious and/or unconscious bias favoring Enbridge.
This issue came to my attention when a friend sent me a screen capture from the video. It read: “Out of the 28+ federal, state and local permits needed for the project, MPCA is issuing 3 permits and 1 certification to protect water and air.” The MPCA public comment period on Line 3 runs through April 10. So the public comment period hasn’t closed and the MPCA already is telling the public it’s going to issue the permits? So much for valuing public input.
By the time I viewed the video on the MPCA’s website, a complaint must have reached higher ups. The MPCA had changed the slide to say the MPCA is “considering” the permits.
I clicked “play.” No narration, just happy, upbeat music, the kind that gives you a positive feeling for the MPCA and Line 3. Each passing slide gave the impression that this was an environmentally friendly project. Nothing to worry about here.
One slide promised that “Water quality is protected by a 401 Certification.” That’s a big stretch, creating an illusion that the MPCA is proactively protecting waters. It is not. MPCA documents state that “degradation of high water quality is unavoidable” due to Line 3 construction. The MPCA then try to reassure the reader that the degradation “will be prudently and feasibly minimized.” That feels different than saying you’re are protecting water. Minimizing damage is one form of protection, but wouldn’t it be better to truly protect state waters by denying the permit and not having any damage at all? The MPCA video puts the best possible spin on approving the pipeline.
Further, Enbridge has admitted pipeline construction won’t meet state environmental standards for protecting water. Enbridge’s DNR Application to Cross Public Waters says it’s not feasible to adhere to all state routing standards “on a project of this scope and size, given northern Minnesota’s topography and environment (e.g., avoiding wetlands).” This fact didn’t make it into the video.
Another slide reinforces the story line of a clean, safe pipeline project. The “Construction Practices” photo shows a clean, neat pipeline trench. It doesn’t show a pipeline trench mucking its way through 79 miles of Minnesota’s wetlands (which Line 3 would). That’s a lot of wetland destruction.
The second image shows a beautifully clean pipeline lined with bright, white sandbags, with the caption: “Materials to limit pollution.” The third image promises “wetland mitigation” without telling the viewer that wetland mitigation doesn’t always work. Again, these are all images that convey the story: Line 3 is safe.
If Line 3 critics would have been consulted, the video would have been different. Click here for an industry photo of pipeline construction using an “open cut” or “dry method” stream crossings. Enbridge will use this method on 161 streams in northern Minnesota, including four trout streams. In this process, the company dams the stream for days, trenches through the stream bed, lays the pipe, and covers it. This would violate water quality standards, increasing suspended sediment, destroying stream habitat, and destabilizing stream banks and stream beds. Click here for a picture of stream sediment pollution. Nothing like this appears in the video.
As the happy music keeps playing, a series of slides pose the question: “What do we consider in the permit process?” The answer on one particular slide reads: “We consult with Tribal Governments in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.” Again, it’s a stretch and doesn’t match with reality. For instance, the White Earth Nation just wrote Gov. Tim Walz asking him for “meaningful consultation” on the MPCA’s Line 3 permits. He asked Walz to tell the MPCA to deny the Permit until the COVID-19 pandemic has eased enough to allow for full public participation. (For more, see Wednesday’s blog: .)
The MPCA video discusses how it’s holding Enbridge “accountable.” One particular slide has a column reading “wild rice protection.” Again, this is an odd use of the word “protection.” The best thing the MPCA could do to protect wild rice is to deny the permit. Instead, it’s proposing to approve the permit, threatening wild rice beds. To make matters worse, the MPCA’s permit analysis ignores potential wild rice damage from future Line 3 crude oil spills. That’s a big, inexplicable oversight, and one that benefits Enbridge.
Apparently, as the MPCA sees it, by making things less bad during construction qualifies as “protecting” water and wild rice. It’s kind of like me telling you: “I’m going to build a road through your house, but I’m going to protect your house by using best management practices for road construction.”
Feel better now?
The MPCA video had subtle messages. For instance, another slide discussing efforts to hold Enbridge “accountable” pictures a third-party monitor sampling water at a pipeline construction site. You are at eye-level with the water. See how clean it is? It suggests that even during construction, there’s no dirty runoff into lakes and streams. This slide suggests pristine waters along Line 3’s route will stay pristine. Another pr win for Enbridge.
I am worried about what this upbeat Line 3 video says about the MPCA worldview. This is what the MPCA wants the public to see as it tries understand and comment on Line 3’s environmental impact. It’s a very slanted narrative.
The MPCA video says the “Permit process is to make sure a project can comply with environmental laws.” Remember, Enbridge already admitted that it can’t build Line 3 and meet state environmental standards, “given northern Minnesota’s topography.” Line 3 would cross more than 200 streams and other water bodies and cross 79 miles of wetlands. It seems the MPCA already has its mind made up, even before the end of the public comment period, that this is OK.
It begs the question: How much environmental damage would a project have to do before the MPCA actually says: “No”?