The state failed to protect Indigenous communities from Line 3’s harms

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.

Continue reading

Enbridge’s behind-the-scenes Line 3 lobbying raises questions about whether it skirted state disclosure laws

Most people would agree that sunshine laws are important to democracy. These laws make government decisions more transparent to average citizens. They include requirements that citizens get access to public documents, have access to public meetings, and have information about the individuals and organizations lobbying to shape public policy.

In Minnesota, these laws are imperfect, as shown in the difficulty in finding information about who is behind Minnesotans for Line 3. The organization claims large grassroots support, but Enbridge appears to be its sugar daddy. Continue reading

MPCA — the state’s leading environmental protection agency — fails to act against mining pollution

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is again in the news for turning a blind eye to ongoing water pollution leaving U.S. Steel’s Minntac Mine in northern Minnesota, according to a report in E&E News. Minntac’s violations “would likely have meant a multimillion-dollar fine for U.S. Steel Corp. … and strict requirements for a cleanup,” the report said.

The EPA is declining such penalties because of MPCA indifference. E&E writes:

Records obtained by E&E News under the Freedom of Information Act indicate Minnesota regulators opposed EPA’s proposed enforcement. …

Leaders of a tribe downstream from Minntac, the Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, are angry that the case has gone dark. They’ve tried for decades to fend off pollution to preserve wild rice, a culturally significant staple food that grows in the region’s waters.

Continue reading

Minnesota Senate has a Line 3 temper tantrum

Walz, Bishop: Don’t buckle to intimidation

Former Commissioner Steve Kelley

The Minnesota State Senate booted Steve Kelley as the Commissioner of Commerce because his department filed a legal challenge to the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline. In so doing, the Senate abused its role to “advise and consent” on top state administration appointments.

Kelley didn’t violate any ethics rules. He didn’t break the law. The Senate didn’t argue he wasn’t qualified. The Senate failed to make an argument against his appointment other than a policy disagreement.

If a policy dispute was sufficient to reject a commissioner’s appointment, the Senate could justify rejecting any and all appointees.

Also worrisome, the Senate seems to be sending a thinly veiled threat to Laura Bishop, Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). The MPCA has yet to act on Enbrdige’s request for Line 3’s water crossing permit. The Senate has yet to confirm Bishop’s appointment, so there’s an implied threat that she could be next if she blocks the permit.

Continue reading

A regulatory system gone belly-up: Deconstructing Line 3’s ‘Independent Monitors’

Part of an occasional series which explores how government regulatory agencies are biased towards corporate interests, creating an institutional culture favoring polluters over the public interest.

Line 3 current route (orange) and proposed route (green).

Consider the following thought experiment.

Imagine that a company wanted to build a crude oil pipeline 355 miles through northern Minnesota, crossing some of the state’s cleanest waters. That pipeline would carry tar sands crude oil, a particularly dirty form of fossil fuel and difficult to clean up when it spills.

Imagine that government regulators approved the project, but required the company to pay to hire 10 Independent Environmental Monitors to oversee construction on behalf of the state. These monitors would be the on-the-ground representatives for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and other departments.

Imagine — as the pipeline crosses 79 miles of wetlands and more than 200 water bodies — these Independent Monitors would have the authority to stop construction if they saw serious violations that threaten our clean waters.

Now imagine, in an unprecedented move, that government regulators put Tribal Nations and environmental groups in charge of selecting the Independent Monitors and training them. This, the regulators said, would bring more credibility to the process, as it would assure construction would meet the highest possible environmental standards.

What do you think would happen next? Continue reading