United Nations scientists say the world has only a decade to get climate change under control or face devastating consequences. That makes it urgent for the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to reverse its vote approving the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota — a project that would contribute to gas and oil combustion creating $287 billion in climate change costs over three decades.
In related news, a Clearwater County judge tossed out 2016 felony charges against the “Valve Turners,” people who temporarily shut off Enbrdige crude oil pipelines in Minnesota to protest their contribution to climate change. While Valve Turners in other states have been convicted and received prison time, here in Minnesota the judge ruled “the circumstances did not rise to the level of the charges filed against them,” according to a story in the Bemidji Pioneer.
While the defendants are undoubtedly relieved, they probably feel some disappointment, too. They had prepared to use the “Necessity Defense,” arguing the harm caused by their actions was insignificant compared to the climate change damage they were trying to prevent. Arguing “Necessity” could have set an important precedent for other activists working to stop climate change. A few days before the trial, the judge barred expert testimony on the climate crisis, according to a story in Common Dreams.
The judge’s ruling avoided the Necessity Defense, leaving the argument for future cases.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) selectively used environmental information to approve the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. The Commission’s analysis undermines its credibility, making it nearly impossible to view it as an impartial and fair decision maker.
Line 3’s final environmental impact statement (FEIS) estimates the pipeline would create $287 billion in climate change costs over the next 30 years, or nearly $10 billion annually. That number alone should have put the brakes on the project. The PUC’s Sept 5 order swept aside these huge costs with the thinnest of justifications. The PUC cherry-picked information from the environmental impact statement to undermine the report’s climate science, referred to as the “social cost of carbon.”
What the PUC failed to tell the public is that the federal government finds the “social cost of carbon” analysis “a useful measure.” Further, the $287 billion figure likely underestimates the true climate change costs from Line 3, according to information in the environmental impact statement.
To put things bluntly, the PUC selectively used facts to approve a project that would allow Enbridge to make short-term profits by shifting the pipeline’s long-term climate change costs onto the rest of the world, costs such as lost agricultural production and flood damage.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC’s) deeply flawed decision approving the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota likely will get challenged in court. Some of the legal arguments against the PUC are now coming into focus.
Seven organizations and tribal governments filed motions asking the PUC to reconsider its vote approving Line 3’s Certificate of Need. The Minnesota Department of Commerce’s motion says the PUC’s decision: “contains legal errors and ambiguities.” The Youth Climate Intervenors’ motion said that: “The Commission’s explicit denial of climate science and wholesale dismissal of treaty rights as ‘unnecessary’ are appalling.” A joint motion by Honor the Earth, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, said the PUC’s order: “fails to interpret state law to favor the public interest and protect the environment as against private interests.”
It’s doubtful the PUC will budge and reverse its vote, but this is a necessary procedural step to allow Line 3 opponents to sue in court. The legal arguments contained in these motions could form the basis for future lawsuits. If this issue does go to court, the PUC will have a lot of explaining to do about why it consistently favored Enbridge and ignored public testimony and the administrative law judge’s independent recommendations.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) failed Minnesota citizens and Native nations by approving the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. The PUC seemed to bend over backwards to favor international corporate interests over Minnesota’s interests. At the same time, it seem to cave into Enbridge’s thinly veiled threat to keep running the old and dangerous Line 3 if the new Line 3 wasn’t approved.
Here are 18 flaws in the PUC’s decision and its process.
Enbridge held a gun to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), threatening to continue operating a dangerously flawed crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota unless the commission approved construction of a new and larger pipeline.
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.
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.
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.”