No accountability for high-sounding promises
The state of Minnesota has paid a lot of lip service to Indigenous communities around “meaningful consultation” and “environmental justice.” As construction on the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline seems imminent, the state’s shallow commitment to these promises has become ever more apparent.
White Earth and Red Lake Nations have opposed Line 3 for years. They say its construction and future spills would damage their treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather on lands the pipeline crosses. They are currently in court trying to stop the pipeline. The state has proceeded with approvals without making sure treaty issues get resolved first.
Last week, more than half of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA’s) Environmental Justice Advisory Group resigned over the agency’s decision to approve a key Enbridge Line 3 pipeline permit. They “cannot continue to legitimize and provide cover for the MPCA’s war on black and brown people,” their letter said.
Today, the Minnesota Public Utility Commission (PUC) issued a letter saying that Enbridge was generally in compliance with its Route Permit conditions, which required plans that were supposed to benefit and protect Indigenous communities.
The PUC required Enbridge to submit a:
- Tribal Economic Opportunity and Labor Education Plan
- Human Trafficking Prevention Plan
- Environmental Justice Communities Mitigation Plan
A close examination shows these plans to be inadequate and lacking in accountability.
Let’s take them one at a time.
Tribal Economic Opportunity and Labor Education Plan
Here are the highlights:
Lack of Public Scrutiny: This jobs plan was a last-minute deal sweetener, something Enbridge floated before the PUC vote. It wasn’t submitted until after the PUC’s public comment period closed. If Enbridge were sincere, it would have put the plan on the table on the front end and given people a chance to critique it.
No Anishinaabe Job Guarantees: Enbridge’s plan gives itself a lot of wiggle room. The plan says: “While preference will be given to Minnesota-based tribal members and businesses, non-Minnesota based tribal members and businesses are included in the $100 million target.”
In 2018, Honor the Earth responded, asking the PUC to clarify whether there would be a guaranteed percentage of jobs going to Minnesota’s Indigenous peoples
The PUC failed to require Enbridge to respond.
Lack of Teeth: The PUC hasn’t imposed any consequences if Enbridge doesn’t meet its target. Enbridge refers to the $100 million jobs plan as an “ambitious target” not a firm commitment.
In other words, the PUC approved a plan with no accountability. Enbridge just has to file an annual report. According to Honor the Earth’s analysis, it’s not clear whether the state will audit Enbridge’s Indigenous jobs claims, or if the Indigenous jobs numbers will be publicly available.
Human Trafficking Prevention Plan
Here are the highlights:
Enbridge’s approved Plan provides minimal consultation with Native Nations. Enbridge wrote the first draft. The plan was then circulated among Native Nations and organizations. They had a month to comments (including Christmas and New Years). There was no in-person or Zoom consultation. Enbridge didn’t have to accept the suggested changes.
That’s not consultation. Native Nations and advocacy organizations should have been involved from the start, helping to create the first draft.
Enbridge failed to follow the permit‘s instructions: The PUC permit specifically directed Enbridge to work with the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force. The Task Force, coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Health, is a “multi-disciplinary statewide response that aims to end sex and labor human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Minnesota.”
Instead, Enbridge consulted with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (“BCA”), Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force. There is no indication that Enbridge consulted with the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force (we checked), or any explanation why the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force was left out of the loop.
So the PUC either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, about the difference in these two task forces. It suggests that it slapped together this particular permit condition. Such an important topic deserved more care and consideration.
The Plan lacks details: Enbridge’s Human Trafficking Prevention Plan is so short and vague it’s hard to tell what if any impact it would have. (The document itself is 14 pages, all but three pages are background filler.)
The plan has five sections, starting with two-paragraphs on Enbridge’s “Zero Tolerance Policy.”
Enbridge’s Statement on Business Conduct states that we will respect human rights and conduct our business in a socially responsible manner by never tolerating human rights abuses or being complicit in any activities cause or contribute to abuse.
Enbridge will communicate a zero tolerance approach to our contractors by incorporating it into contract language and with all Line 3 Replacement Project workers through onboarding training.
Sure sounds good. Yet the plan neither says what the Zero Tolerance Policy is, or names consequences for failing to meet it.
The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa replied to Enbridge, saying it was “unclear what ‘zero tolerance’ means.”
Enbridge responded with a link to its 34-page “Statement of Business Conduct.” However, the word “Zero Tolerance” doesn’t appear in the document.
Enbridge sidesteps requirements: The permit required Enbridge to “maintain a toll-free hotline throughout the Project’s construction for receiving reports of human trafficking.” Instead, Enbridge’s plan defers those costs to existing services. It writes:
Enbridge will use the toll-free National Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) and/or Minnesota Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force Hotline (651-793-7000) for reporting suspected human trafficking activities versus setting up a new line. …
Enbridge doesn’t say if or how it will publicize the number or to what extent it’s going to support the existing services financially.
On Nov. 6, Enbridge submitted an update on its plan, noting that it had been meeting with Tribes United Against Sex Trafficking to provide plan updates, and it continued to work with advocates to develop training materials.
Environmental Justice Communities Mitigation Plan
Similar to the Human Trafficking Prevention Plan, Enbridge provided the minimal consultation with Native Nations in developing its Environmental Justice Communities Mitigation Plan. Again, Enbridge wrote the first draft and circulated it for comments.
An Environmental Justice Plan is supposed to address “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
Again, this model doesn’t provide “meaningful involvement.” Native Nations and advocacy organizations should have been involved from the start, helping to create the first draft.
The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe submitted the following critique.
Although this plan provides a definition of Environmental Justice and lists potential adverse impacts of the route, it includes little new information that is particular to Environmental Justice. Instead, this plan describes what Enbridge is already doing to comply with the required regulatory process, including the EIS process, public hearings, evidentiary hearings, and public comments. This plan focuses on job training, outreach, and similar activities. However, these are not sufficient remedies for potential impacts to cultural resources and the disproportionate adverse impacts to Environmental Justice communities.
Enbridge offered a vague and noncommittal response:
Enbridge has reached out to Mille Lacs Band to discuss the Project and remains interested in engaging in such discussions. …
As Mille Lacs suggests, the plan is a lot of corporate blah-blah-blah. Here’s one mind-numbing passage of plan padding non-information:
This Project has been the subject of significant interest by several Tribes, as well as other stakeholders, and the level of engagement and record development concerning the Project reflects that heightened interest. More specifically, the Project has already been the subject of a regulatory process that has been ongoing since late 2014 and included a formal EIS process, more than 70 public hearings, three weeks of evidentiary hearings, and numerous opportunities for public comment. Stakeholders and Tribes have had the opportunity to participate in that regulatory process – either formally as parties or informally as commenters – to make their views known to the Commission and to Enbridge.
It’s irrelevant. Enbridge is filing space to give the appearance of substance. It’s a litany of background information that has no bearing on the Environmental Justice Mitigation Plan.
Put bluntly, the plan is embarrassingly thin.
Enbridge takes a momentary detour to tout its Corporate Social Responsibility Policy, which “stresses collaborative, consultative, and partnership approaches in our community investment programs.” It fails to see the irony in the fact that it didn’t take a partnership approach in developing its Environmental Justice Plan.
Enbridge’s statement that stakeholders had the opportunity “to participate in that regulatory process” is particularly galling. Participation doesn’t mean impact. More than 90 percent of the Line 3 comments submitted to the PUC called for denying the permits.
A lot of good that did.
Enbridge has the money to hire good writers. All three of Enbridge’s plans meant to lower Line 3’s impacts on Native communities are vague, poorly crafted, and content deficient. It seems intentional.
Worse yet, the PUC doesn’t seem to notice or care, giving them the rubber stamp.
It’s just the latest in a string of PUC decisions that favored empty corporate promises over the real needs of Minnesota’s citizens and the long-term health of our state.