Religious Leaders Speak Out Against Enbridge Line 3 as Vote Looms this Month

Religious leaders gathered at Leif Erickson Park before crossing to the state Capitol to deliver their letter to Gov. Mark Dayton.
Curtiss DeYoung, CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches

Curtiss DeYoung, CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches, stood before a crowd of hundreds of people Monday afternoon at Leif Erickson Park to state the shared belief of many religious leaders that the state should reject the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline on moral grounds.

“Oftentimes the faith community historically has been on the wrong side, particularly as it relates to indigenous communities and sovereign nations who we are in relationship with.” DeYoung said. “Today we decided to be on the right side.”

The event was organized by the Minnesota Poor People’s Campaign, and Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light (MN IPL), and had the support of the Minnesota Council of Churches. (Star Tribune article here.)

The event, held just west of the state Capitol, included civil rights songs, a Jewish cantor, a brass band, chants, and a Buddhist moment of silence. It included indigenous prayer and truth-telling. It included a number of brief speeches from religious leaders from different traditions. But the event’s main goal was to Stop Line 3. To that end, the group delivered an interfaith letter opposing Line 3 to both Governor Dayton and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Some 540 faith leaders signed.

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A Desperate Enbridge Plays “We Care About Indians” Card, Motives Seem Suspect

Enbridge CEO Al Monaco was in Duluth this week in a desperate attempt to shore up support for his proposed Line 3 crude oil pipeline expansion through northern Minnesota. He was throwing out new incentives, promising jobs for Native Americans and trying to woo supporters. Canadian-based energy transportation giant Enbridge is trying to put on a “Good Neighbor” face, when in fact its motives seem less than altruistic.

Hundreds packed a Line 3 public hearing in Bemidji. Public response was overwhelmingly against the project.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is expected to vote on Line 3 later this month, and things aren’t looking good for Enbridge. The Administrative Law Judge that handled Line 3 testimony issued her report in April, concluding the costs outweighed the benefits for the new pipeline route Enbridge proposed. The Line 3’s environmental impact statement (EIS) concluded that Enbridge’s proposal would add $287 billion in climate change costs over 30 years, costs Enbridge is passing on to the public. The Minnesota Department of Commerce concluded the pipeline isn’t needed. Ojibwe bands affected by the pipeline strongly oppose it. Hundreds of the state’s religious leaders are registering their opposition. Public Testimony on Line 3 overwhelmingly opposed it: Of the roughly 72,000 comments, 68,000 or 94 percent were thumbs down.

Line 3’s window of possibility is still ajar, however. The Administrative Law Judge left open the option of rebuilding Line 3 in the current trench, a plan neither Enbridge nor Line 3 opponents like. So Enbridge came to town bearing gifts to try to keep its proposal going. It’s a strong indication that Enbridge knows its project is in trouble.

A Friday Duluth New Tribune story headlined: Enbridge CEO rallies with Line 3 supporters in Duluth outlines Enbridge’s gift basket.

According to the story:

Enbridge … said it is spending $100 million to hire Native American workers and businesses for the Line 3 project. The program would “target opportunities for tribal nations on the U.S. side of the project, which is mostly Minnesota,” Monaco said.

Comment: If Enbridge truly was interested in building relationships and supporting Ojibwe people and their governments, it would have made this offer at the beginning of the process, not the end. Significantly, Enbridge has not engaged the Ojibwe in a meaningful conversation about treaty rights. Five Ojibwe Bands in northern Minnesota filed a joint petition to reject the Line 3 EIS because it lacked an historic preservation assessment on the proposed new pipeline corridor. The petition criticized state efforts, but Enbridge did nothing to support the tribes in this matter.

In the worst-case scenario that the PUC approves Line 3 in some form, it’s good to have this provision supporting Native American workers and businesses. But the offer seems more marketing and desperation than altruism.

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Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe: Reject Enbridge Line 3’s Certificate of Need and Route Permit

Part III of a series looking at Ojibwe Band responses to Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s report and recommendations on the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline. [Note: Ojibwe is the colonial name for the Anishinaabe. Ojibwe is used in this story because of its use as an official band name.]

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s offered a unique response among the various Ojibwe bands to Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s report on the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline.

While other bands tended to focus on treaty rights, the Mille Lacs Band led with a strong argument on the economic reasons to deny Line 3. The Mille Lacs Band said: “THE EVIDENCE IN THE RECORD DOES NOT SUPPORT A NEED FOR THE PROJECT.”

O’Reilly’s report, and Mille Lacs response, were sent to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the body expected to vote on Line 3 in late June. The PUC will vote on Line 3’s Certificate of Need and Route Permit. The Mille Lacs letter addresses both issues.

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News Updates: Faith Leaders Stepping Up to Oppose Line 3; U.S. Crude Exports Hit Record High; and More

Here’s a quick news wrap on issues related to Enbridge Line 3.

‘This is a moral issue’: Faith leaders team up against Line 3 oil pipeline: MPR reports on a Monday event where religious leaders from different faith traditions are speaking with one voice against the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline. The event starts at 2 p.m. just west of the Capitol in Leif Erickson Park.

Comment: Here is the Facebook event page with more details. Hope you can join us! (The event is being sponsored by Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light and the Poor People’s Campaign, a National Call for Moral Revival. The campaign is uniting 40+ states in 40 days of action around the impacts of and connections between Structural Poverty, Systemic Racism, Ecological Devastation, and the War Economy.)

U.S. Oil Exports Eat Into OPEC Market Share In Asia. The website OilPrice.com is reporting that U.S. Asian crude oil exports are increasing. (OPEC and Russian agreed to production cuts, an apparent effort to boost prices.) According to the story:

The United States is expected to export 2.3 million [barrels per day] of crude oil in June, including 1.3 million [barrels per day] bound for Asia, according to estimates by a senior executive at a U.S. oil exporter who spoke to Reuters.

U.S. crude exports hit a record high 2.566 million [barrels per day in the second week of May, EIA [U.S. Energy Information Administration] data shows.

Comment: While the U.S. is still a net crude oil importer, it’s important to note that our crude oil exports are peaking. It says we are importing more crude oil than we need for our own energy security. In addition, according EIA data, the United States is now a net exporter of finished petroleum products (gasoline, kerosene, fuel oil, etc.) This should be sufficient reason for the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to reject Enbridge Line 3, which seeks to increase Canadian crude oil imports into the United Stats. It is not needed.

Gov. Dayton Vetoes ‘Guilty by Association’ Bill that Favored Outside Corporate Interests Over MN Democracy. The Land Stewardship Project reports that Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed “a bill driven by outside corporate interests with the intent to chill dissent and curtail free speech. The ‘Guilty by Association bill would have imposed criminal and financial liability on those who attend or support a peaceful protest where critical infrastructure is damaged by a separate individual. During the announcement, Governor Dayton said he was concerned it could lead to conspiracy charges for ‘mere conversations.’”

Comment:  This is a win. Thank you, Gov. Dayton!

Canadian Government announces it will purchase Kinder Morgan Pipeline for 3.45 billion US. Indian Country Today reports that the Canadian government “will purchase the Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline — a controversial pipeline that runs from the Alberta oil sands to the country’s pacific coast — for $3.45 billion.”

Comment: This is a blow to the provincial government of British Columbia which had opposed the project. It also means there are other outlets for the Alberta Tar Sands Oil to get to market other than through northern Minnesota.

Structural Bias in PUC Review Process of Line 3 Favors Enbridge

Part II of a series looking at Ojibwe Band responses to Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s report and recommendations on the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline. [Note: Ojibwe and Chippewa are both colonial names for the Anishinaabe. They are used in this story because of their use as official band names.]

The current Line 3 is blue, the proposed reroute is in red. Light green shaded area reflects the “ceded lands” where bands retain rights to hunt, fish and gather.

Federal Indian law and the interpretation of treaties is complicated business; it requires specialized legal training. Ojibwe bands in northern Minnesota are pushing back on how Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly interpreted treaty law in her report on the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline, submitted to the Minnesota Public Utilties Commission (PUC).

Some of her interpretations don’t conform with court decisions, Ojibwe bands say.

At issue are Ojibwe treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather in northern Minnesota. In the legal world, these are called “usufructuary rights.” The dispute is over whether Ojibwe bands retained these hunting and fishing rights on lands they ceded by treaty to the U.S. government.

O’Reilly’s effort to interpret treaty law is flawed, and it reflects a major flaw in the Line 3 review process. First, according to her official state profile, O’Reilly doesn’t appear to have Indian law expertise. This is not a knock on O’Reilly; it’s a knock on a system that wasn’t set up to look out for treaty rights. Second, the system pushes resolution of treaty rights disputes to the end of the legal process instead of making them the priority and putting them at the beginning.

The process could just as easily have defended Ojibwe treaty rights and forced Enbridge to overcome that presumption in court before its application process even started.

It’s reasonable to ask why treaty rights issues didn’t receive more attention at the start of the process. The federal Indian Trust responsibility is a U.S. obligation “to protect tribal treaty rights,” according to the U.S. Department of Indian Affairs.

At this point, it’s not happening.

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Leech Lake Band Opposes Option to Keep Line 3 Pipeline in the Same Trench

Enbridge’s current Line 3 route (blue) and Enbridge’s preferred route (red).

Part I of a series looking at Ojibwe Band response to Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s report and recommendations on the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

Native American nations and their community members are not monolithic in their opinions. That fact becomes apparent when reading the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe’s response to Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s recommendations on the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline. According to Leech Lake’s May 9 letter:

The [Leech Lake] Band is different than the White Earth, Red Lake, Mille Lacs, and Fond du Lac Bands. The [Judge’s] Report fundamentally fails to understand this. The Band is again trying to make that clear so that the [Public Utilities] Commission will not miss the point, as well.

Two Kinds of Treaty Rights

The Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline proposal affects two kinds of treaty rights:

First, each of the Ojibwe bands has treaty rights to operate as a sovereign government and control land. (The colonial term is “reservation.”) Second, they have treaty rights with the cumbersome title: “usufructuary rights.” This refers to rights to hunt, fish and gather on “ceded territory,” that is, lands outside of reservation boundaries. (These hunting and gathering rights are complicated.  More on this in a later blog.)

What is important from Leech Lake’s perspective is that Line 3 crosses its sovereign lands. (In fact, Line 3 runs in Enbridge’s Mainline Corridor which has a total of six pipelines. These pipelines also cross the Fond du Lac Reservation. Leech Lake and Fond du Lac are two of the seven sovereign Ojibwe Bands in Minnesota.)

Enbridge, a Canadian energy transportation company, has proposed a 1,000+ mile crude oil pipeline from Alberta to Superior Wisc., crossing northern Minnesota. It wants to reroute Line 3 through part of Minnesota, opening a brand new pipeline corridor to avoid Leech Lake and Fond du Lac lands. That route would still cross lands where various Ojibwe Bands have reserved “usufructuary” rights to hunt, fish and gather.

In-Trench Replacement Proposed

O’Reilly’s recommendations say if a pipeline is to be built, the best option is to remove the current Line 3 and rebuild in the same trench. She argues that plan has the environmental benefits of removing the old, decaying pipeline, and avoiding the environmental damage of opening a new pipeline corridor. The plan also has the economic benefit of creating jobs to remove the old pipeline, a project estimated to cost $1.2 billion.

Writing for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, attorney Grace Elliott called O’Reilly’s plan “a terrible choice.”

Any suggestion of negotiation on in-trench replacement of Line 3 is offensive to the Band, whose sovereign government has legislatively passed an ordinance/resolution stating its official position against in-trench replacement. …

The Band does not accept the Report’s assumption that the Project’s impacts on off-reservation natural resources would have a greater negative socioeconomic impact on the tribal community than in-trench replacement of the pipelines across reservation lands.

Enbridge’s Mainline Corridor easements expire in 2029. Leech Lake’s letter said the Band won’t renew the agreement in 2029 “because it wants the pipelines removed as soon as possible.”

The Leech Lake Band said the impact of a new Line 3 “would be more favorable if the Commission approved a route outside the Reservation.”

The Band’s interests in this Project cannot be understated … With respect, the Band’s Reservation is different than ceded territories, and crossing the Reservation is different than crossing private property within a ceded territory …

‘Best and Most Plentiful Wild Rice Waters’

Leech Lake Band members harvest wild rice on Mud Lake. (Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through Creative Commons license.)

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is expected to vote on Line 3 in late June. It will rely on O’Reilly’s report for its deliberations.

The Leech Lake Band says that O’Reilly’s analysis is skewed, ignoring Line 3’s impacts on Leech Lake simply because the pipeline corridor already exists. The letter continues:

The Leech Lake Reservation has the best and most plentiful wild rice in the State. As [Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Environmental Director Levi] Brown stated, ten percent of Minnesota’s fresh water lies within the Leech Lake Reservation boundaries, and Leech Lake has the most abundant wild rice resources. The existing Line 3 pipeline runs through the very heart of wild rice country where it crosses through the Leech Lake Reservation. …

The Leech Lake Band argues that rebuilding in the same trench “has the greatest impacts on wild rice of any alternative.”

Impacts on the Chippewa National Forest

O’Reilly’s report also fails to acknowledge the impact on the Chippewa National Forest of removing the old pipeline and installing a new one, the Band says. Leech Lake co-manages the Chippewa National Forest with the U.S. Forest Service. The current Line 3 affects 157 acres of that forest.

Elliot writes:

The Band has a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Forest Service that was signed “to recognize treaty rights of tribes to hunt, fish, and gather wild plants on national forest lands.” Thus, to the extent [O’Reilly] was concerned about impacts on treaty rights, the record is clear that [the in-trench replacement plan] would have real and concrete impacts. The [PUC] should not ignore these facts.

DNR Comments on Line 3 Report Raise Additional Environmental Concerns

Enbridge’s current deteriorating Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline on the Fond du Lac Reservation, exposed above ground. Enbridge wants to abandon the pipeline. Photo: John Ratzloff

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) both weighed in on the Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s report and recommendations on Line 3, clarifying, amplifying, and critiquing them.

Both agencies generally compliment Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s report for being, as the DNR put it, “comprehensive” and “neutral.” Neither agency takes a position on how the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) should vote on the Line 3 permits.

Still, the agency comments provide further illumination on why the PUC should reject Line 3. The DNR comments show that Enbridge’s current plans fails to provide adequate protections to northern Minnesota’s waters and environment. The MPCA comments reinforce O’Reilly’s critiques of the project’s risks.

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