Northern Metal Case Study: MPCA flopped its response to repeat air quality violations in North Minneapolis

Second part of a three-part series

Part I: The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) permitted a giant metal shredder and recycling operation in North Minneapolis in a neighborhood where residents already faced high asthma rates. Northern Metal Recycling began operating in 2009. Initial smokestack tests showed it was violating air quality standards for particle pollution. The MPCA’s solution was to update the permit in 2012 allowing Northern Metal to emit more pollution. When the MPCA installed air quality monitors in the community in 2013-2014, they started recording more air quality violations.

Part II: North Minneapolis’ air quality problems continued. Northern Metal disputed it was the source of the problem. In 2015 an independent consultant conducted air quality tests, expanding the analysis to include other pollutants. It showed air pollution problems were worse than previously understood. Community members demanded state action. Still, Northern Metal was able to forestall enforcement action. It did pay a fine, thought it’s unclear whether the company saved money by polluting and paying fine rather than paying to fix the problem.

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Northern Metal Recycling: Another in the MPCA’s history of ignoring environmental concerns from communities of color

First part of a three-part series.

For a decade, 2009-2019, North Minneapolis’ Hawthorne neighborhood was home to Northern Metal Recycling, a metal shredding operation which added air pollution to an area already beset by polluting industries.

More than 75 percent of Hawthorne residents are Black, Indigenous or other people of color. The neighborhood’s median household income in 2017 was under $30,000. Its zip code had the highest hospitalization rate for asthma of any in the state, the Star Tribune reported that year.

Northern Metal is a case study in the flaws in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA’s) regulatory approach. When the agency approved Northern Metal’s permit, it didn’t adequately consider the cumulative impacts on North Minneapolis nor react in a timely manner when air quality violations occurred.

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Independent Environmental Monitors cite Enbridge 10 times for ‘unacceptable’ work

Line 3’s 25 Independent Environmental Monitors are the eyes and ears for state regulators, making sure Enbridge is following all permits and rules and minimizing environmental damage while building its new crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.

When the independent monitor observes activities that violate any environmental plan, permit, certification, or authorization, they file a report marked “unacceptable.”

Construction of Line 3 is 50 percent complete. From the beginning of construction Dec. 1 to the end of April, Independent Environmental Monitors have filed 10 “Unacceptable” reports for the project, or one every two weeks on average.

In several incidents, Enbridge’s Environmental Inspectors were slow to respond to problems identified by the independent monitors.

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Half of Line 3’s ‘Independent Environmental Monitors’ have prior work for Enbridge

There are more than two dozen Independent Environmental Monitors spread out along the 337-mile Enbridge Line 3 pipeline corridor in northern Minnesota. They are supposed to be the eyes and ears for state regulators, making sure Enbridge is following all permits and rules and minimizing environmental damage.

Half of the 25 independent monitors hired to work on behalf of Minnesota state regulatory agencies have worked on Enbridge projects at some time in the past, according to monitor resumes obtained through a public information request.

It raises questions about how “independent” these monitors really are.

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Enbridge reneges on its Landowner Choice Program, attorney for property owners says

PUC permits did nothing to hold the company accountable

When the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved the new and expanded Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in 2018, it let the company skate on its responsibility to clean up the old and deteriorating pipeline it was replacing.

It was going to cost Enbridge $1.2 billion to remove the old pipeline and do the necessary restoration work. It was a price the company did not want to pay.

Instead, Enbridge proposed abandoning the old Line 3 in the ground, widening its existing right-of-way, clear cutting more trees, and installing a new Line 3 in a brand new trench.

Line 3 critics opposed the proposal. At a basic level, they said Enbridge should follow the First Rule of Kindergarten: Clean up your old mess before making a new one. Further, if the PUC was as focused on job creation as it seems, requiring Enbridge to remove the old pipeline would create 50 percent of the jobs as the new Line 3 construction work.

Instead, Enbridge proposed the Landowner Choice Program, which would give property owners the choice between 1) having the old pipeline removed or 2) taking a one-time payment to leave it in the ground. (Essentially, it incentivized landowners to take a short-term gain and pass the pipeline problem to future owners.)

As it did on most issues, the PUC sided with Enbridge. It approved Line 3 permits with the understanding that Enbridge could file the details of the Landowner Choice Program later. The PUC included no accountability measures or sanctions in the Line 3 Certificate of Need should the company fail to live up to its promises.

Landowners are now saying Enbridge is shirking on its obligations and petitioning the PUC for help.

It’s just the latest example of the state’s flawed regulatory system that seems to favor corporations over residents. Specifically, it raises questions about why the PUC is so chummy and trusting with Enbridge.

Enbridge has not only been disrespectful of Indigenous treaty rights, but also the promises it made to landowners of any race or background who own land along the line.

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Enbridge hides data from public on promised Line 3 job creation for Minnesotans

PUC did nothing to hold the company accountable for jobs pledge

Enbridge Energy sold Line 3 to Minnesota regulators saying it would be a jobs engine for Minnesota workers. It said Line 3 would create 8,600 jobs, and 6,500 or 75 percent would be local jobs.

When Enbridge released its Line 3 jobs reports for the 4th quarter of 2020, it was roundly criticized for failing to meet its target. It missed by a mile. Minnesotans held only 33 percent of Line 3 jobs, and worked only 28 percent of total hours.

Enbridge just released its Line 3 jobs report for the 1st quarter of 2021. It’s solution to meeting its local jobs promise seems to be to omit the data and hope nobody notices.

Making matters worse, state regulators doesn’t seem to care.

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Parallel Trauma training, new Line 3 drone footage, and more

In this blog:

  • Genocide, Parallel Trauma and Reparations: Moving into Action and Accountability, May 18
  • ‘Flying jewelry’ delays Trans Mountain Pipeline construction
  • New drone footage of Enbridge Line 3’s Shell River crossing
  • Oil field waste is radioactive and poorly regulated
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Treaty People Gathering, June 5-8; Mississippi canoe paddle May 9, and more

  • Treaty People Gathering: Rise, Protect, Stop Line 3, June 5-8
  • Indigenous women-led Mississippi canoe paddle opposing Line 3, May 9
  • ‘No More Pipeline Blues’: Bonnie Raitt and the Indigo Girls support water protectors
  • Sam Grant: Connecting the Derek Chauvin trial with Enbridge Line 3
  • MPCA still won’t own up to its flawed approval of the PolyMet Mine, harm to Fond du Lac Band
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U.S. Justice Dept. to investigate Minneapolis police practices, culture

The U.S. Justice Department today announced a sweeping probe of the Minneapolis Police Department, investigating its practices, culture, and use of force to see if there is a pattern of unconstitutional or unlawful policing.

Sounds impressive, but we’ve heard this reform story before, nationally and locally. Problems persist.

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