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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Block (Line 3) Party at the PUC: An Act of Celebration and Resistance

Part of the two-day Block Party opposing Enbridge Line 3 included a Water Ceremony at the Mississippi River, led by Sharon Day. (Photos by Scott Russell)
Camp Turtle Island erected a tipi in front of the PUC offices and members spent the night there.

In a month, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is expected to take a final vote on key permits for the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline through northern Minnesota. Indigenous and environmental groups kept up the pressure opposing the project by hosting a two-day Block Party right in front of PUC offices in downtown St. Paul.

It was called the “Block (Line 3) Party at the PUC,” and it was both a celebration and an act of resistance. The May 18-19 event included a meeting with Gov. Mark Dayton’s staff around pipeline issues, a community meal prepared by indigenous grandmothers, a silk screening tent, a water ceremony led by Sharon Day (an Anishinaabe Water Walker), community education, Line 3 updates, and a music concert featuring Annie Humphrey, Jayanthi Kyle, Thomas X and See More Perspective.

Rose Whipple, one of the Youth Climate Intervenors, spoke.

Line 3 is a bad idea, a proposal putting the interests of Canadian oil transportation giant Enbridge and larger oil processing firms over the interests of Minnesotans. Approving Line 3 would set a bad precedent for relocating other Enbridge pipelines throughout the state, increasing harm to the state’s environment, indigenous peoples, and anyone who cares about its waters. Several hundred people attended the event to show their opposition to the pipeline.

Debra Topping, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe, and one of the Block Party organizers, was one of many speakers: “Every day I wake up there is something to fight about,” she said “Every single day we get up and fight for our wild rice.”

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Block (Line 3) Party at the PUC May 18-19 — Spread the Word!

File photo

Come join pipeline resisters and water protectors at the Block (Line 3) Party in St. Paul, Friday May 18 to Saturday May 19.  We must come together to show the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) how important the denial of Line 3 is to all of us.

In June, the PUC will make its final vote on whether or not to approve Enbridge Line 3’s Certificate of Need and Route Permit. This Block Party is one of our last opportunities before that vote to educate one another about Line 3’s very real harms and show the PUC Commissioners that many, many Minnesotans oppose this potentially devastating project.

  • Here is a link for the Facebook Event where you can sign up to attend and share.
  • Here is a link to sign up to volunteer at the event.

Invite your friends and family to a weekend filled with lots of opportunities for connecting, sharing, and creating.  Music, food and art are just a few of the highlights you’ll experience during our time together.

The Block Party will run from 2 p.m. on Friday May 18 to 2 p.m. on Saturday May 19. It will be held in front of Metro Square, 121 7th Place East, where the PUC has its offices.

Here is the planned schedule of events:

Friday, May 18:

2:30 PM – Capitol Visit:  Meet in rotunda at Capitol to visit our elected leadership and ask them to stop Line 3! We’ll walk to the PUC for Block (Line 3) Party, arriving by 4 p.m. or earlier.  (Alternative to PUC walk will be offered for people with disabilities)

3:00-6:00 PM – Solutions Fair, Art, & More!  The heart of the action! Bring a t-shirt and get it screenprinted for free with pipeline resistance art (donations accepted to help build an action camp art tent), check out a multitude of community organizations and clean energy groups, and learn about statewide action to stop Line 3.

4:00-6:00 PM – Community Meal:  Enjoy dinner with the community, contributed by volunteers (food quantities limited), concurrent with the Solutions Fair & Art Tent.

6:00-8:30 PM – Concert to Stop Line 3!  A fabulous lineup of musicians from the movement. Bring camp chairs or blankets!

Saturday, May 19:

8:30 AM – Water Ceremony at Mississippi River: Water walker Sharon Day will lead a ceremony starting at the Mississippi River (near Sibley St) and progressing to the PUC. Bring a small container of water from where you live to contribute to the ceremony.

10:00 AM – Line 3 Pledge of Resistance: Let’s show the PUC we’re committed: come sign the Line 3 Pledge of Resistance to commit to take nonviolent action to resist this project or support others who may choose to do so.

12:00-4:00 PM – Direct Action Training or March, Your Choice: Participate in a Direct Action Training at the PUC site hosted by the Line 3 Resistance Training Program OR join the March for Science at nearby Mears Park. Continue reading

MPR Continues to Disappoint in its Enbridge Line 3 Coverage

Minnesota does not need Enbridge Line 3. (Source: Healing Minnesota Stories)

MPR continues to disappoint in its coverage of Enbridge Line 3.

Today’s MPR story: Dayton: No ‘viable way’ to build new Line 3 pipeline on current route includes the following lines:

The governor said he is not taking a position on the issue [Line 3] until the Public Utilities Commission decides whether to give Enbridge its blessing to construct the Line 3 replacement.

Comment: This is a sin of omission. The story fails to acknowledge that Gov. Dayton’s own Department of Commerce issued a statement September 11 stating Minnesota did not need Line 3:

Oil market analysis indicates that Enbridge has not established a need for the proposed project; the pipeline would primarily benefit areas outside Minnesota; and serious environmental and socioeconomic risks and effects outweigh limited benefits.

Further, that same day Commerce released its analysis, Gov. Dayton issued a statement saying:

“The Minnesota Department of Commerce has filed its review of Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 Pipeline project. I commend the Department’s professional staff for its very comprehensive analysis.

Lastly, an MPR ran a story that day with the headline: State better off without Enbridge oil pipeline, Dayton agency says.

Seems like the Sept. 25 story left out important context.

That is the lesser of my MPR complaints. Continue reading

Line 3 Recommendations Puts Burden to Stop Line 3 Squarely on the Ojibwe

People packed public hearings on Enbridge Line 3, like this 2017 hearing in Bemidji.

Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s long-awaited report on Enbridge’s Line 3’s crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota came out late Monday with recommendations that are sure to disappoint the pipeline’s indigenous and environmental opponents as well as Enbridge itself.

The recommendations do not offer a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the proposed 337 mile pipeline from Kitson County to Superior, Wisc. Instead, O’Reilly recommends giving Line 3 tentative approval, hinging on numerous conditions — but conditions that Enbridge surely will oppose.

[Note: I have not read the full report, which was released in the late afternoon. The following analysis relies on initial reads from MN 350, the Youth Climate Intervenors, and the Sierra Club, a group with which I volunteer.]

Significantly, O’Reilly’s 370-page report rejects Enbridge’s preferred route. The recommendations says the only way the project would meet a cost-benefit analysis — and justify a Certificate of Need — would be if the company removed the old Line 3 from its existing trench and used the same trench for the new Line 3.

O’Reilly’s recommendations would both add significant costs to Enbridge and create an unwinable legal conflict with Ojibwe bands.

Enbridge proposed abandoning the old pipeline in the ground and installing the new pipeline along a new route. (That route would cross the Mississippi River twice, including the headwaters.) O’Reilly’s requirement to remove the old pipeline and use the existing trench would — by Enbridge’s estimate — add $1.28 billion in costs. (See page 8-13 in the final environmental impact statement.)

Further, the old Line 3 cross reservation lands. Reusing that same trench is a non starter. Tara Houska, National Campaigns Director of Honor the Earth, said it in a statement: “Tribal nations have been crystal clear that a new line is not acceptable; there is no economic need for Line 3 and the risk it poses to Minnesota.” So even if Enbridge was willing to fork out the extra $1 billion to remove the old pipeline, it’s highly unlikely it would ever get the needed permission from Native nations to build it.

Lastly, O’Reilly’s report is clear that Native nations have the right to say “no” to any new pipeline through their territory. On page 10 of her report, she writes:

Just like the Commission [PUC] cannot bind the federal government, the Commission does not have the authority to require the Indian Tribes to permit the replacement of Line 3 within the Reservations.

The recommendations now go to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which is expected to cast final votes in June on Line 3’s Route Permit and its Certificate of Need. O’Reilly’s conditions seem to be deal killers, but unfortunately she doesn’t come out and say that. They leave the PUC some wiggle room. It’s still anyone’s guess how the PUC will vote.

Perhaps the only certainty is that there will be litigation regardless what happens.

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U.S. Bank Pulls Enbridge Line of Credit, Line 3 Opponents Say

U.S. Bank has pulled its portion of a $1.3 billion line of credit from Enbridge, according to a news release from Honor the Earth and MN350. It is a victory in efforts to get banks to divest from tar sands pipelines.

Here is the release in full:

MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL — November 2, 2017 — U.S. Bank has ended its credit relationship with Enbridge Inc., the Canadian company seeking to expand tar sands oil transportation through Northern Minnesota with the controversial proposed Line 3 pipeline. U.S. Bank’s move comes amidst a growing local and global movement calling on the banking industry to cut ties to fossil fuel extraction.

A report released today by the Rainforest Action Network, “Funding Tar Sands: Private Banks vs. The Paris Climate Agreement,” cites Bloomberg investor data and criticizes 36 other banks for financing the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge. The report shows that U.S. Bank no longer holds a credit relationship with Enbridge.

As recently as August 2016, U.S. Bank had been a part of extending a multi-bank $1.3 billion line of credit to Enbridge that was not set to expire until late 2019. Last spring, U.S. Bank updated its Environmental Policy to end project-level pipeline construction financing. Continue reading

Disappointment: Conservative Judge Rules Enbridge Line 3 EIS “Adequate”

There has been a lot of news in the past few days about Enbridge Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline, as debate moves forward on a two-track process. On one track is the question of whether the environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared by the Minnesota Department of Commerce is adequate or needs to be rewritten. On the other track is the question of whether the state should issue a “Certificate of Need” and “Route Permit” for Line 3.

This post will focus on the EIS.

Eric Lipman, the administrative law judge tasked with reviewing the Line 3 EIS, has determined it is adequate. That is a big disappointment, as many native and environmental groups and ordinary citizens had found it deeply flawed. Lipmans’ recommendation goes to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which will make the final determination.

Here are stories in the StarTribune and MPR on Lipman’s decision. The StarTribune story  notes:

Among criticisms of the EIS, the environmental group Friends of the Headwaters maintained that the EIS did not assess a possible large oil spill into the headwaters of the Mississippi River or other “high consequence areas” in Itasca and Hubbard counties. Specifically, the group wanted an analysis of a potential leak on par with Enbridge’s massive 2010 pipeline spill in Michigan, which cost the company over $1 billion to clean up.

Lipman disagreed, writing that such specific spill modeling wasn’t necessary.

Lipman’s decision on the Line 3 EIS wasn’t a surprise. He had been assigned to the Sandpiper project earlier. (Sandpiper would have carried fracked oil from North Dakota east into Minnesota, joining up with the proposed new Line 3. Click here for map of the two projects.) In the Sandpiper case, Lipman ruled in favor of the company, recommending approval of Sandpiper’s Certificate of Need and Route Permit.

Ultimately, Enbrdige dropped the Sandpiper proposal. According to a Sept. 2, 2016 article in the Star Tribune, Enbridge made the decision after deciding to buy into the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The White Earth Nation attempted unsuccessfully to get Lipman recused as the judge for reviewing the Line 3 EIS, saying he was prejudiced. (Its motion was in support of a request by Friends of the Headwaters.)

White Earth attorney Joseph Plummer’s court filing noted that in the Sandpiper case, Lipman had concluded that “lifecycle issues related to crude oil,  greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change are outside the scope of what the PUC may consider.” Lipman would not come into the Line 3 debate with an open mind. As Plummer wrote, he was unlikely to reverse himself on previous decisions.

Another strong argument against Line 3 was that it violated the Treaty of 1855 which guaranteed the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) the right to hunt, fish, and gather along the pipeline’s route. Lipman also had ruled on that issue in the Sandpiper case, saying did not think the treaty forbid the issuance of a pipeline permit.

So Lipman’s Sandpiper ruling suggested that serious criticism of the Line 3 project’s impact on climate change and treaty rights would be off the table before the debate even started.

Plummer also noted that Lipman was the most political of the administrative law judges the PUC could have chosen. (Plummer came to that conclusion after reading all the judge biographies  on the Office of Administrative Hearings website.) “In addition to being a state Republican legislator,  he [Lipman] also was General Acting Counsel to Governor Pawlenty, a Deputy Secretary of State under Republican Mary Kiffmeyer, and the Political Director for Rod Grams for U.S. Senate,” he said. None of the other administrative law judges had that kind of political resume.

You can read Plummer’s full affidavit, here.

Lipman’s recommendation on the EIS will carry weight with the Public Utilities Commission. Line 3 opponents could chose to challenge his decision in court. And there still is the separate opportunity to press the PUC to reject the Certificate of Need and Route Plan.