MPCA tries to restart Environmental Justice Advisory Group amid significant trust issues

This Tuesday, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is hosting an information session for those interested in applying for its Environmental Justice Advisory Group (EJ Advisory Group).

This is vitally important work. Potential applicants be warned, however, that the MPCA has not taken this group seriously in the past. The majority of its members (12 of 17) resigned in November, 2020 because the agency’s decision to permit the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline. The advisory group opposed the permits because of the project’s disproportionate impact on Anishinaabe Tribes located in northern Minnesota.

The fact that the MPCA has taken this long to reconstitute the group is a troubling sign.

The MPCA’s EJ Advisory Group information session will be from 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, no registration required. Here’s the Zoom link. You also can dial in. Here’s the MPCA’s Environmental Justice Advisory Group webpage with more details.

For those going, consider asking:

  • What did you learn from the 2020 mass resignation from the Environmental Justice Advisory Group, and what will you do differently this time?
  • Can you give one or two examples where the agency significantly changed its plans based on feedback from the Advisory Group?

The MPCA’s environmental justice work began in the 1990s and the agency renewed its commitment in 2012. In 2017, it published its Environmental Justice Framework Implementation Report. This May, it updated its Environmental Justice Framework.

By all appearances, it’s still floundering.

The MPCA was painfully slow to address air pollution from Northern Metal, a metal shredder in a North Minneapolis neighborhood where residents are disproportionately low-income and BIPOC. It still hasn’t addressed longstanding water pollution coming from the MinnTac mine in northern Minnesota. That pollution kills wild rice, a great concern to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

In their 2020 resignation letter to the MPCA, 12 members from the EJ Advisory Group wrote: “we cannot continue to legitimize and provide cover for the MPCA’s war on black and brown people.”

Line 3 construction broke through an aquifer cap in St. Louis County.

Their letter continued:

“Line 3 will mean violated treaty rights, heightened risk of sexual trafficking and sexual violence, and an insult to the three tribal nations that strongly oppose its construction. Any perceived economic benefits are extremely short-term. …

“We demand that [MPCA] Commissioner Bishop and the Walz Administration reflect on the choices that were made. Your decision to side with a Canadian corporation over your own people is reprehensible and devastating. We ask that you do everything in your power to repair the damage you have done and seek a healing path to justice with the communities you have harmed.”

Line 3 has been up and running for more than a year.

Kaleigh Swift and Maryan Abdinur, two of the 12 EJ Advisory Group members who resigned, both previously worked as MPCA interns.

The MPCA’s power structure is predominantly white and male, Swift said in a 2020 interview with Healing Minnesota Stories. The staff is mostly scientists and engineers “whose understanding of things like environmental racism, or racism more broadly, is extremely limited.”

Abdinur said the agency’s Line 3 decision didn’t align with either its stated environmental justice values or the MPCA’s mission statement: “We’re beyond disappointed.”

Statement from the MPCA’s Environmental Justice webpage.

We now know — as water protectors predicted — Line 3 construction created considerable environmental damage. That includes three aquifer breaches that released hundreds of millions of gallons of groundwater, and multiple frac-outs releasing drilling mud into wetlands.

Future Line 3 crude oil spills are inevitable.

The MPCA’s Environmental Justice webpage still has high-sounding language, promising to “prioritize environmental justice,” and provide “early involvement in decision making.”

Still waiting.

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