Events: The connection between extractive industries and MMIR, Reparations Learning Table, and more

In this post:

  • Webinar: Intersection of extractive industries and human trafficking in relation to the MMIR crisis, Monday
  • Reparations Learning Table (three events starting Thursday, Jan. 26)
  • Ojibwe Storytelling Series
  • Online Tar Sands Action Party, Sunday
  • Webinar: Christian Nationalism and the Threat to Human Rights, Wednesday, Jan. 25
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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.

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Enbridge needed more than 20,000 cubic feet of grout (concrete) to plug Line 3 aquifer breach near Fond du Lac

A photo essay

In 2021, Enbridge Line 3 construction workers breached an aquifer in St. Louis County, just 400 feet west of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation.

Enbridge hadn’t done — nor did the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) require — any analysis of the area’s hydrology.

This was one of at least three such aquifer breaches created by Line 3 construction, a violation of Enbridge’s permit and state law.

The St. Louis County breach:

  • Took nearly seven months to repair. (The breach occurred Sept. 10, 2021 and the repair was reported complete on April 7.)
  • Released more than 263 million gallons of groundwater.
  • Required 24/7 grouting activities (think cement) to repair, starting March 8 and finishing April 5 (with two pauses to check for effectiveness).
  • Required more than 20,000 cubic feet of grout to fix, according to Enbridge’s final report on the repair. (That’s enough grout to build a wall two-feet thick, 20-feet tall, and 500-feet long.)
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Court to hear challenge to biased policing of water protectors during Line 3 construction

Corrections: An earlier version of this post misidentified Winona LaDuke’s attorney. She is being represented by Frank Bibeau and Claire Glenn. It also failed to list all of the open cases against LaDuke, which have been added.

One of the hallmarks of this country’s democratic experiment is our aspiration for an impartial justice system, so it’s inexplicable how Minnesota leaders deployed law enforcement against water protectors who opposed the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline in the manner that they did.

The problem started with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), but other leaders remained silent.

The PUC approved a scheme allowing Enbridge — a multi-billion dollar, multi-national Canadian company — to fund state and local law enforcement agencies to monitor and police water protectors who opposed the pipeline.

The PUC created a Public Safety Escrow Account. Enbridge funded it. Law enforcement agencies submitted bills for their Line 3-related expenses.

It created bias in the justice system, giving law enforcement financial incentives to focus on, and go after, water protectors.

The scheme finally is getting challenged in court.

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DNR evades key questions about Enbridge’s Clearbrook aquifer breach

Maybe it doesn’t know the answer. Maybe it’s just not telling. Either way, it’s bad.

If a contractor working on your house damaged your foundation, wouldn’t your first question be: “Why did this happen?”

Nearly two years ago, workers building the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline failed to follow construction plans and broke through an aquifer in Clearwater County, known as the Clearbrook breach. It wouldn’t get fixed for a year and would release 72.8 million gallons of groundwater.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has announced sanctions, but has yet to explain why Line 3 workers didn’t follow construction plans and damaged the aquifer.

Further Enbridge should have reported the aquifer breach right away. The DNR wouldn’t learn about the violation for four-plus months. (And the DNR didn’t learn about it from Enbridge, but indirectly from Independent Environmental Monitors.)

The DNR still hasn’t explained why Enbridge didn’t report the aquifer breach in a timely manner.

In announcing sanctions Sept. 16, DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said: “This never should have happened, and we are holding the company fully accountable.”

However, the DNR is failing to answer these critical questions about the breach, and without transparency there is no accountability.

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Hubbard Co. Sheriff abused his power and won’t face consequences

Law enforcement line at Namewag in Hubbard County, July 28, 2021. Photo: The Giniw Collective.

Across the country, law enforcement’s credibility is under scrutiny. To regain it, it’s essential that it’s impartial in deed and in public perception.

The state and law enforcement did themselves damage in how they responded to water protectors resisting the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline in 2020-2021. The state approved a plan allowing Enbridge to fund an escrow account to reimburse law enforcement agencies for any Line 3-related costs. Those law enforcement agencies collectively received $8.5 million.

The Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office received nearly half a million dollars from the Enbridge escrow account. It also abused its power to intimidate those at Namewag, a camp set up by Giniw, an Indigenous women-led environmental protection group. At Namewag, they practiced traditional Anishinaabe ways and also actively opposed Line 3.

On June 28, 2021 the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office organized a shock-and-awe law enforcement response to Namewag … because it didn’t have an easement to drive a short stretch of county-owned land, the camp’s only access.

Let that soak in. Look at all the deputies in the photo above, and ask: Does this make sense over an easement infraction?

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Camp Fire Light court case seeks to uphold treaty rights

Treaties are a two-way street, with rights and responsibilities on both parties.

Non-Indigenous landowners in this country might not think about it, but our land titles trace back to treaties between the U.S. government and Native Nations. We have benefited immensely from these treaties and their legacy of cheap land.

The U.S. government coerced treaties, got vastly disproportionate benefits from treaties, and yet still broke treaties. Native Nations have struggled to enforce the few treaty provisions that benefit them. They deserve support.

A case now before the District Court in Clearwater County reflects an attempt by non-Indigenous people to uphold U.S. treaty obligations, specifically, that Anishinaabe people retain rights to hunt, fish, gather, and hold ceremony on lands they ceded to the U.S. government under the Treaty of 1855. (Full disclosure, I am a defendant.)

While the U.S. Supreme Court already has ruled that the Anishinaabe retain such rights under the 1855 Treaty, Clearwater County Attorney Kathryn Lorsbach is trying to relitigate the issue.

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Judge dismisses charges against five of the ‘Shell River Seven’ who opposed Line 3

Honor the Earth envisions Line 3 exhibit in Park Rapids

Shell River Seven standoff

A District Court judge in Wadena County Monday dismissed gross misdemeanor charges against five of the “Shell River Seven” who peacefully tried to protect the Shell River and Anishinaabe treaty rights against the construction of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

“Criminalizing and over-charging protestors is a common tactic used by the State to scare activists and suppress movements,” Claire Glenn, an attorney for two of the defendants, said in a media release. “The criminalization of the Shell River defendants was no exception, and this dismissal is a powerful victory for water protectors.”

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Volunteers spotlight more groundwater problems apparently created during Line 3 pipeline construction

State environmental watchdogs are investigating, but not releasing any details

Video screen grab showing construction matting at Walker Brook.

This a corrected version of an earlier blog. The original version incorrectly said the DNR and MPCA made a joint statement about the Walker Brook situation. This post includes their separate statements. The previous post has been taken down. I regret the error.

More environmental damage is coming to light from construction of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline, and its due to citizen volunteers.

The group Waadookawaad Amikwag (Anishinaabe for “Those Who Help Beaver”) has been monitoring the construction corridor for unreported environmental damage out of concern that state regulators weren’t paying attention to it.

Waadookawaad Amikwag released a video this week of what they say is a fourth cold underground water breach, this one where Line 3 crosses Walker Brook South in Clearwater County.

The DNR denies that there is an aquifer breach, suggesting it is “an upwelling of shallow groundwater resources that has complicated site restoration.”

(The DNR’s statement is silent on the connection between Line 3 construction and the upwelling of shallow groundwater or how much groundwater has upwelled.)

This comes on top of three Line 3 aquifer breaches we already know about: Clearbrook, LaSalle Creek, and Fond du Lac.

All this environmental damage falls disproportionately on the Anishinaabe (Chippewa and Ojibwe) nations in northern Minnesota. In approving Line 3’s Certificate of Need, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission “expressed serious concern with the Project’s impacts to indigenous populations, acknowledging that the Project would traverse ceded territories where Minnesota’s Ojibwe and Chippewa tribes hold … hunting, fishing, and gathering rights.”

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How a Pennsylvania pipeline highlights Minnesota’s regulatory failings

Minnesota prides itself as being a state that cares about protecting the environment. Lax state permitting and oversight of the construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline shattered that self image.

Minnesota citizens are missing key information about Line 3 construction damage, the kind of information used by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office to get convictions against Energy Transfer for environmental crimes while building its Mariner East 2 and Revolution natural gas pipelines.

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