How will the MPCA handle Enbridge Line 3’s water quality certificate? Minntac’s example is alarming

Part IV and last in a series exploring how the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has failed for decades to enforce water quality standards against U.S. Steel and its Minntac mine in northern Minnesota.

Tribes, environmental groups, and concerned citizens won a victory recently, when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) agreed to allow challenges to its proposed approval of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline.

To proceed with Line 3, Enbridge needs the MPCA to issue the project a water quality certificate. The agency had tentatively given the OK.

Public pressure got the MPCA to reconsider, and it ordered a contested case hearing. Administrative Law Judge James LaFave will handle the proceedings, expected later this summer. The hearings will allow intervenors — White Earth Nation, Red Lake Nation, Honor the Earth, Sierra Club and Friends of the Headwaters — to challenge the facts the MPCA used to reach its decision.

This is a significant win. The MPCA doesn’t seem inclined to use its regulatory authority to protect water quality. One troubling example is the MPCA’s failure in 2014 to use the water quality certificate process to force U.S. Steel to address ongoing pollution problems at its Minntac taconite mine in northern Minnesota.

Continue reading

News and Links: Feds fail Indian Country in COVID-19 response, Enbridge pipeline problems persist; Remembering Native American lynchings

In this blog:

  • Iron Rangers try to deny Fond du Lac drinking water grant because of tribe’s mining opposition
  • Center for American Progress: COVID-19 Response in Indian Country: A Federal Failure
  • Voice of America: Remembering Native American lynching
  • Enbridge fined for pipeline safety violations in Minnesota

Continue reading

MPCA grants limited contested case hearing on Enbridge Line 3’s water crossing certificate, but ducks tough issues

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) today announced it has agreed to hold a contested case hearing on the water crossing certificate for the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline.

Line 3 would cross more than 200 water bodies in northern Minnesota and 79 miles of wetlands. The MPCA’s announcement is a partial win for pipeline opponents, including Native Nations, environmental groups and regular citizens. Yet the MPCA still is failing to live up to its environmental protection mission.

The MPCA had recommended approving Line 3’s water crossing permit. Pipeline opponents will now have the opportunity to appear before an Administrative Law Judge to challenge the MPCA’s case, based on the project’s water and wetland impacts.

Sadly, the MPCA limited the contested case hearing’s scope, leaving key issues off the table. Pipeline opponents will not be allowed to argue against Line 3 based on its climate impacts or future crude oil spills, both powerful reasons to reject the project.

Continue reading

News: Line 3 appeals coming; former Trump aid gets mask contract for Navajo hospitals, and they might not work; and more

In this blog:

  • Line 3 appeals coming
  • Former Trump aid gets contract to supply masks to Navajo hospitals, and they might not work
  • Holding online public hearings to review new oil and gas projects could undermine Indian Country involvement
  • 3 dozen democrats back Standing Rock’s attempt to shut down DAPL during new environmental review
  • The Four Invasions: Nick Estes on Indigenous resistance and the vision of a better future

Continue reading

MPCA offers PR spin about what ‘meaningful’ tribal consultation means in Line 3 review

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA’s) commitment to environmental and racial justice is being tested and it’s not doing that great. It gets an incomplete at best.

At issue is the MPCA’s environmental review of Enbridge’s plans to build a tar sands crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota. To proceed, Enbridge needs the MPCA to approve a water crossing (Section 401) certificate. The proposed Line 3 crosses a lot of water — more than 200 streams and other water bodies and 79 miles of wetlands.

Native Nations have offered strong opposition to Line 3 for violating treaty rights and its threats to clean water and wild rice. Both the pipeline’s construction and future spills would endanger northern Minnesota’s environment.

So what were the MPCA’s goals for engaging Tribal communities in this important decision, and how well did it meet them?

Continue reading

Legislative Auditor’s report on the PUC taking longer than expected, no release date set

The Minnesota Office of Legislative Auditor has released five of the six program evaluations that were expected around the beginning of the year; the only one outstanding is the report on the Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC’s) Public Engagement Processes. Continue reading

Walz says he prioritizes safety of most vulnerable communities during pandemic, but would he intervene to stop Line 3?

Gov. Tim Walz

Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan issued a “Coronavirus Response and Preparation” update Friday that said: “As COVID-19 has exacerbated racial, economic, and educational inequities, the Walz-Flanagan Administration has prioritized the safety of our most vulnerable workers, families, and communities.”

Al Monaco, president and CEO of Enbridge, has said he believes construction on Line 3 could start this summer. Yet the pandemic isn’t going to be over by the summer. An influx of workers risks bringing more coronavirus cases to northern Minnesota. Line 3 runs near the White Earth and Red Lake reservations and through the Fond du Lac Reservation. Those communities have more than their share of health problems and their members would be more vulnerable to the virus.

In the worst-case scenario where Enbridge gets all the state permits it needs, the Walz administration needs to intervene to stop construction. With the current oil glut, there’s no public urgency for Line 3 construction to move forward.

Continue reading

The difficulty of getting a clear answer on the protective coating on Enbridge Line 3’s pipes

One of Enbridge’s pipe storage yards. Photo taken summer, 2017

Last week’s blog raised questions about the safety of the pipes Enbridge plans to use to build a crude oil pipeline across 355 miles of  northern Minnesota. The pipes for Line 3 have sat outside in storage yards for years, exposed to the elements. The pipes have anti-corrosion coating that is supposed to protect them underground, but it’s not good for them to sit outside as the sun can degrade the coating.

It seemed like a reasonable question to ask: “What role do regulators play in assuring the pipe’s protective coating still has its integrity if and when Line 3 is built?

It’s been challenging to get a direct answer. The bottom line seems to be that regulators don’t play a role. They have deferred that responsibility to Enbridge. They just seem reluctant to admit it. 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

PUC reissues orders approving Line 3, Commissioner Schuerger dissents, lawsuits now back in play

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) released orders today reapproving Enbridge Line 3’s Route Permit and Certificate of Need. This now opens the door for legal challenges to the tar sands crude oil pipeline, including suits from Native Nations who say the project threatens their treaty rights, their sacred wild rice, and their clean waters.

The PUC’s actions today again put pressure on Gov. Tim Walz to decide where he stands on the Line 3 project, and whether he will reaffirm a lawsuit against the project by the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Continue reading