In terrific news for those opposing the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline, the Minnesota Department of Commerce late today announced it would refile its appeal to stop the project. (Thanks to MPR’s Dan Kraker for the tweet.) The case now heads to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
The Walz administration faced a Wednesday deadline to file its appeal. The Governor hadn’t indicated which way he was leaning. The pressure was on.
Earlier today, Indigenous Nations and environmental groups filed a joint appeal to reject Line 3’s permits. Group representatives called on Walz to renew the state’s appeal at a press conference outside the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
“Yet again, the PUC has refused to acknowledge the reality that Line 3 would pose untenable costs to Minnesota, all to deliver tar sands oil we don’t need,” Sierra Club North Star Chapter Director Margaret Levin said in a media release. “Their bad decision — ignoring state’s agencies’ recommendations, and based on a faulty process — would be devastating for Minnesota’s clean water and communities. The Court must reject the PUC’s decision once and for all.”
The 355-mile pipeline would trench its way through northern Minnesota carrying dirty Canadian tar sands oil. The line would cross more than 200 waterbodies and 79 miles of wetlands and violate treaty rights.
Also early this morning, a group of water protectors staged an action at the Governor’s mansion, shutting down the street. They erected a tripod in the middle of St. Paul’s Summit Avenue, with Wabigonikwe Raven, an Anishinaabe woman, suspended in a seat from the tripod’s top. (She sat in the sun for 11 hours and was released with a citation.)
It was a small sign to Walz of the protests and resistance that are sure to come if Line 3 moves forward.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) initially approved Line 3 permits in June of 2018 through a semi-judicial process called a contested case hearing. Several legal challenges sent the PUC back to make revisions and reapprove the project.
We’re now at a critical stage where intervenors can challenge the PUC’s decision. The appeals will argue the PUC’s decision didn’t follow the law, and was unreasonable and imprudent by ignoring key facts.
In addition to the joint appeal filed today by the Red Lake Nation, White Earth Nation, Honor the Earth, and the Sierra Club, the Youth Climate Intervenors and Friends of the Headwaters both plan to file separate appeals.
In other news, religious and spiritual leaders sent Walz and other state leaders an open letter yesterday expressing their deep concern about how the state “will deploy Minnesota law enforcement in response to protests against the Line 3 pipeline, should the project get approved.”
Why the Commerce appeal matters
The Minnesota Department of Commerce represented the public interest in the Line 3 hearings before the PUC. It concluded that Enbridge’s proposal failed at a very basic level: It didn’t prove that the pipeline was needed. Enbridge’s argument boiled down to a claim that oil demand was almost unlimited. If the oil suppliers wanted to move more oil, there was sufficient demand.
The Department of Commerce urged the PUC to reject Line 3’s Route Permit and Certificate of Need. The PUC approved the project anyway.
Commerce’s recommendations are stronger today than in 2018. The events of the last year have shown oil demand isn’t limitless. Climate change is one of the industry drivers. “BP said that it will transform itself by halting oil and gas exploration in new countries, slashing oil and gas production by 40 percent, lowering carbon emissions by about a third, and boosting capital spending on low-carbon energy tenfold to $5 billion a year,” according to a story in the Washington Post.
The coronavirus also has affected demand. “The U.S. oil and gas rig count, an early indicator of future output, fell … to an all-time low of 244 in the week to Aug. 14,” Reuters reported. “That was 691 rigs, or 74%, below this time last year.”
Tar sands oil is not only a very dirty fuel, but expensive to produce. The Canadian tar sands industry is in bad shape, too. Total, one of Europe’s largest energy companies “is taking $8 billion in writedowns, mostly on Canadian tar sands properties whose reserves may wind up ‘stranded’ or never produced,” the New York Times reported.
Each group involved in the appeals process has an area of expertise. The Sierra Club and Friends of the Headwaters know environmental issues. The Native Nations and Honor the Earth know treaty rights as well as environmental issues. The Youth Climate Intervenors have researched Line 3’s climate damage.
The Department of Commerce brings unique expertise around oil demand. It will have an important voice in the appeals.
According to a Department of Commerce statement, its appeal is consistent with it previous actions. It will argue that the PUC didn’t follow the law. First, it failed to require Enbridge to submit an oil demand forecast, as required by law. Second, the PUC shifted the burden of proof regarding a future oil demand analysis from Enbridge to Line 3 opponents.
Open letter to Walz and other state leaders
Monday, Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light published an open letter to state leaders signed by 400 religious and spiritual leaders, calling on various state officials to prevent violence against water protectors opposing Line 3. They put state leaders on notice that they need to avoid the kind law enforcement violence seen at Standing Rock and the George Floyd uprising.
It was one additional piece of pressure on Gov. Walz.
The letter says:
In 2018, more than 550 faith leaders wrote to state regulators expressing strong opposition to the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline because of the harm it would do to Anishinaabe people. Despite multiple tribes’ legal opposition to the Line 3 project on the grounds that it threatens treaty rights, the project moves forward. Now Minnesota law enforcement seem to be actively preparing to use the same playbook in northern Minnesota that we saw used in both the George Floyd protests and at Standing Rock.
Signers include: Bishop Bruce Ough, who oversees the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church, Rev. Dr. Curtiss DeYoung, CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches; Jim Bear Jacobs, director of racial justice, Minnesota Council of Churches; Ricky DeFoe, Pipe Carrier, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa; Rabbis Michael Adam Latz and Arielle Lekach-Rosenberg, Shir Tikvah Temple; Rev. Ben Connelly, Minnesota Zen Meditation Center; Anita Bradshaw, Associate Conference Minister, Mayflower United Church of Christ and the Minnesota Conference, United Church of Christ; and Karen Wills, Executive Director, Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance.
The letter makes specific demands. It calls on Gov. Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan “to take leadership to ensure all state responses to protests adhere to your own Executive Order 13-10, which mandates a process of tribal consultation for each of your agencies whose work intersects with sovereign tribal nations.”
It calls on John Harrington, Commissioner of Public Safety to “ensure that Enbridge cannot influence state public safety decisions. We ask that when deciding police protocol for use-of-force, you make your decision-making process transparent to the public.”
It calls on Rebecca Lucero, Commissioner of Human Rights, “to prepare on-the-ground human-rights observers as actively as Enbridge and the state and local law enforcement agencies seem to be preparing law enforcement to escalate violence. We need more than a civil rights investigation after the fact; we also need proactive protection of human rights.”
Click on the link to the letter for more details.