Honor the Earth Files First Legal Challenge to PUC Approval of Enbridge Line 3

Honor the Earth is suing to stop Enbridge Line 3 in the Minnesota Court of Appeals, saying the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved the project based on a faulty and inadequate environmental impact statement (EIS).

Honor the Earth filed the legal challenge earlier this month, the first of what could be several lawsuits by various parties seeking to stop the pipeline. Honor the Earth’s lawsuit says the PUC’s decision “was contrary to law, not supported by the evidence, and arbitrary and capricious.” Continue reading

MPR Buys Into Enbridge Line 3 Spin that Climate Change is Just Too Confusing

Tar sands mining in Alberta contributes to climate change. (Wikimedia Commons)

MPR’s latest story on the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline buys into the corporate narrative that climate change is just too confusing for people to understand. It starts with the headline: Why no one agrees on Line 3 pipeline’s climate change impact, which undermines the science in the project’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The EIS estimates Line 3’s “social cost of carbon” pollution at $287 billion over 30 years.  The social cost of carbon “is meant to be a comprehensive estimate of climate change damages. It includes changes in net agricultural productivity; human health; property damages from increased flood risk; and changes in energy system costs, such as reduced costs for heating and increased costs for air conditioning.”

I’m not saying that people can’t challenge the analysis, but let’s be clear about what is in the EIS. It’s $287 billion estimate is conservative, a likely underestimate of the costs. The social cost of carbon estimate “does not include all important damages,” because of limitations with the modeling and data. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says such “social costs of carbon” estimates are “a useful measure to assess the benefits of CO2 reductions,” it says.

The MPR story never mentions the $287 billion cost.

Corporate efforts to muddy the facts are nothing new. Recall how tobacco companies tried to undermine the science linking smoking and lung cancer. Pipeline companies don’t need to convince people that tar sands crude oil doesn’t affect climate, they just need to raise doubts, making it so hard to understand that people walk away scratching their heads.

MPR’s story reflects that narrative. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Calculating the carbon footprint of a project like Enbridge Energy’s proposed Line 3 oil pipeline is complicated. Not only are there multiple steps involved in the analysis, but there’s also a need to make an educated guess about what the world would look like with and without the new pipeline.

Comment: So the story’s takeaway is not the $287 billion public pricetag, but that the analysis is “complicated,” there are “multiple steps” that include “educated guesses.” The MPR analysis does more to confuse than illuminate.

Continue reading

PUC to Vote Thursday, Dec. 7 on Line 3’s Environmental Impact Statement

Honor the Earth map of Enbridge Line 3.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is scheduled to vote on the Enbridge Line 3 environmental impact statement (EIS) Thursday, Dec. 7, starting at 9:30 a.m. at its regular meeting space in Metro Square, 121 7th Place East, Suite 350, St. Paul.

The public will not have an opportunity to speak, but public presence sends a message to the PUC that people are watching.

To recap: Enbridge’s existing Line 3 is old and failing; Enbridge wants to abandon it in the ground. (Bad idea.) It has proposed a new and larger pipeline along a new route through northern Minnesota. It threatens the Mississippi headwaters, lakes, rivers and wild rice areas. It violates the interests of Ojibwe people who have reserved treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather along lands crossed by the pipeline.

The EIS decision is one of several key  Line 3 votes. Should the PUC find the EIS “inadequate” it would not kill the project, but would likely delay it. The EIS would need further work. (A project delay would also cost Enbridge money.) Even if the PUC approves the EIS, the PUC still needs to vote on Line 3’s Certificate of Need and Route Plan. Those votes are not expected until April.

The EIS has been criticized by indigenous and environmental groups. The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, in cooperation with six Chippewa bands and Honor the Earth, has released its own draft environmental impact statement, called the Tribal Cumulative Impact Statement.

Here is the PUC’s Dec. 7 agenda:

1. Should the Commission find that the Final Environmental Impact Statement is Adequate?
2. Should the Commission adopt the administrative law judge’s Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation?
3. Whether the data identified as Trade Secret in Appendix F and Appendix I of Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership’s Certificate of Need Application for the Proposed Line 3 Replacement Project is public under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

Continue reading

Enbridge Tries to Sneak a Line 3 Expansion Through Under the Guise of a Replacement Project

Fourth in a series of critiques of the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s final environmental impact statement (EIS) on Enbridge Line 3, a proposal to expand and reroute a tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. Commerce is taking public comments on the adequacy of the EIS until 4:30 p.m. Oct. 2. To learn how to submit comments, click here.

Enbridge’s proposed tar sands crude oil pipeline expansion has a basic contradiction that never gets addressed in the environmental impact statement. Here are excerpts from the first three paragraphs of the Executive Summary:

Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership … has submitted applications to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission … to construct a new 340-mile, 36-inch-diameter pipeline in northern Minnesota to replace the aging 282-mile, 34-inch Line 3 oil pipeline …

The existing Line 3 pipeline has operated for approximately 50 years. It requires extensive maintenance and is currently restricted to a capacity of 390,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Enbridge’s proposed new 36-inch-diameter pipeline would be capable of carrying up to 760,000 barrels of Canadian heavy crude oil per day, which was the original design capacity of the existing Line 3.
If Enbridge’s goal is to have a pipeline that has the same carrying capacity as the old Line 3, why does it propose using a larger pipeline? It’s no trade secret that a larger pipeline can carry more oil. So let’s look at the Enbridge Line 3 Certificate of Need Application. On page 8-3 it says that the project’s full design capacity is 844,000 barrels a day. That’s an 11 percent increase over the 760,000 barrel a day capacity of the original Line 3.

Keep reading on that same page, and the Certificate of Need application says the “ultimate design capacity for the pipeline considering its diameter, wall thickness, steel grade, and crude slate” is an annual average of 915,000 barrels a day. That’s 20 percent more than the old Line 3.

It seems like a basic question, but the EIS does not address why there is a need for a 36-inch pipeline to maintain the capacity of the old 34-inch pipeline. Further, did the Department of Commerce consider spill analysis scenarios with the higher volume carrying capacities? If it didn’t, then the EIS is inadequate.

It seems like Enbridge is using the old sleight-of-hand, “nothing-up-the-sleeve” bumarooski. On one hand, it talks about this as an “replacement project” but in reality it is a larger pipeline with a larger capacity. Once it gets the state OK, what’s to stop Enbridge from cranking up the volume? The EIS needs to address this.

Lastly, since the final EIS came out, Minnesota Department of Commerce submitted expert testimony from its energy consultants saying there isn’t even a need to replace the capacity from the old pipeline. (See earlier blog: Minnesota Dept. of Commerce: Enbridge Has Not Established Need for the Tar Sands Pipeline; Risks Outweigh Benefits.)

There is no reason for the state to approve this pipeline, and there certainly is no reason to approve a larger pipeline.

Environmental Analysis of Tar Sands Pipeline Fails on Readability, Citizen Engagement

Third in a series of critiques of the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s final environmental impact statement (EIS) on Enbridge Line 3, a proposal to expand and reroute a tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. Commerce is taking public comments on the adequacy of the EIS until 4:30 p.m. Oct. 2. To learn how to submit comments, click here.

People packed the hall in Bemidji to comment on the draft EIS.

For the third installment, let’s look at the opaque and slanted language of the environmental impact statement (EIS) and how its exclusively technical bent prevents citizens from effectively engaging the debate.

The EIS is inadequate in that it provides a flood of data, but very little analysis that pulls it together in a meaningful way. Yes, the detailed technical analysis is necessary, but so are plain English explanations of what it means. Typically, these kinds of reports includes introductions and summaries that help citizens understand the basic context. These are notably absent from the report.

It works to Enbridge’s advantage to have an EIS written in a way that only experts understand.

Compounding the problem, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has started the last round of public hearings on Enbridge Line 3 before it has determined whether the EIS is adequate. The EIS is a critical source of public information.

Continue reading

Does Minnesota Need a New Tar Sands Pipeline? Commerce Ducks Critical Question in EIS

Honor the Earth map on Enbridge Line 3.

Second in a series of critiques of the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s final environmental impact statement on Enbridge Line 3, a proposal to expand and reroute a tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. This project threatens the Mississippi River and wild rice areas, violates treaty rights, and is unnecessary for the state’s energy security. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is taking public comments on the adequacy of the EIS until 4:30 p.m. Oct. 2. To learn how to submit comments, click here.

The Line 3 environmental impact statement (EIS) is inadequate because Commerce fails to look at whether or not this project is needed, given the environmental risks it will create.

Commerce released its draft EIS in May, triggering an avalanche of public comments. Some critics questioned the need for the project, offering testimony that Minnesota’s petroleum sales are down 19 percent since their 2004 peak.

In the final EIS, Commerce argues that the questi0n is outside the scope of the EIS. Here is how it responded to citizen criticism (Appendix T, page T-3).

… this EIS does not assess the overall project need. Instead, the EIS evaluates the environmental impacts associated with the range of reasonable alternatives to aid the Commission’s evaluation of the need criteria set forth in Minnesota Administrative Rules.

This is a head smacker. First, Chapter 5 dedicates 646 pages to: “Existing Conditions, Impacts, and Mitigation – Certificate of Need.” I am confused about how Commerce can dedicate that much analysis to a Certificate of Need without finding it necessary to “assess the overall project need.” Most ordinary people would expect a conversation on the Certificate of Need to discuss “Need.”

Second, the EIS saw fit to include informati0n on petroleum supply but it ignored demand (that is, the need for the project). Nothing prevented Commerce from including this information. The PUC needs the information. It is relevant to the debate. Citizens have raised the issue and provided the data.

Lastly, the Introduction, page 1-5, says the EIS would help the PUC decide whether denying the Certificate of Need: “would adversely affect the future adequacy, reliability, or efficiency of energy supply to the Applicant, to the Applicant’s customers, or to the people of Minnesota and neighboring states.” Further, the PUC needs to address whether the social impacts of granting the Certificate of Need “are more favorable than the consequences of denying the certificate.”

The EIS does not include that analysis. The EIS does not consider a “No-Build”option, so the PUC has no way of comparing the difference between approving and denying the Certificate of Need.

The EIS does, however, include an analysis of Line 3’s job creation and potential property tax benefits. If Commerce wants to take an expansive definition of environmental impacts to include jobs and tax implications, surely it could include an analysis of project need.

Being selective in the facts it chooses to present is a form of bias.

Continue reading

Commerce Takes Enbridge Assumption as Fact, Low Balls Impact of New Tar Sands Pipeline

First in a series of critiques of the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s final environmental impact statement (EIS) on Enbridge Line 3, a proposal to expand and reroute a tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. This project threatens the Mississippi River, wild rice areas, and Anishinaabe treaty rights. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is taking public comments on the adequacy of the EIS until 4:30 p.m. Oct. 2. To learn how to submit comments, click here.

Today, let’s critique the debate over the useful lifespan of a new crude oil pipeline. The EIS assumed the new Line 3 would only last 30 years. Anyway, Enbridge told the Department of Commerce it would operate for 30 years and Commerce did not challenge the assumption, even though current pipelines have lasted much longer.

Commerce had the lead role in writing the EIS on Enbridge Line 3 and its goal was to be a neutral arbiter of the facts. As it states in Appendix T (page T-i): “an EIS does not advocate, recommend, or state a preference for a specific alternative. Instead, it analyzes and compares alternatives so that citizens, agencies, and governments can work from a common set of facts.”

This is one example where Commerce — by accepting Enbridge’s assumption and ignoring public criticism — is showing bias favoring the pipeline. This is one reason the final EIS is inadequate and needs to be redone. Continue reading

Deeply Flawed Environmental Analysis of Tar Sands Pipeline Needs to Go Back to Square One

The state has released a deeply flawed final environmental impact statement (EIS) for a proposed tar sands crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, a project known as Enbridge Line 3.

The 5,000 page document ducks the issue of treaty rights. It spends a scant 28 pages on issues of environmental justice, and much of that is unintelligible bureaucratic language. It leaves important questions unanswered.

Enbridge wants to install a three-foot wide tar sands pipeline through 337 miles of northern Minnesota, crossing the Mississippi twice and threatening wild rice areas. It will connect Alberta’s tar sands fields with a terminal in Superior, Wisconsin.

The public responded loudly when the draft EIS was released in May. Many individuals and organizations flooded public hearings with comments and criticisms. Many believe the process is being rushed.

Media analysis is coming in. The Star Tribune headline read: Report: Enbridge Line 3 options all would have negative effect on American Indians. MPR went with the neutral headline: Line 3 oil pipeline environmental review released.

Missing from media analysis and from the EIS is an analysis of whether we need this pipeline.

The answer is no. This pipeline has nothing to do with U.S. energy independence; it has everything to do with corporate profits from gas exports to developing countries. Two important facts. First, Minnesota’s refined petroleum sales (gas, diesel, jet fuel, etc.) is down 19 percent from our 2004 peak. Second, the United States is now a net exporter of refined petroleum products and our exports are growing annually. We don’t need more tar sands crude.

The pipeline threatens our environment and treaty rights and gives the state and nation no long-term benefits.

I am just starting to go through the EIS, but here are some early takes. Continue reading

Honor the Earth, Other Groups, Add New Education Resources to Stop Line 3

New Honor the Earth map on Enbridge Line 3.

If you are a reader of this blog, mostly likely you are strongly opposed to the proposed expansion and reroute of a tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota (see map at right).

Enbridge has an old and failing Line 3 (the black line on the map). Enbridge proposes to abandon that line in the ground and install a new, larger pipeline along a new route (the red line on the map.) That new route crosses the Mississippi headwaters and endangers clean lakes, rivers and wild rice beds, and all for nothing. Minnesota’s fossil fuel demand is actually declining.

If you are like a lot of people, you want to have your voice heard but don’t have to time to wade through the hundreds of pages in the recently released draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Even the most ardent opponents struggle to get through it.

But the good news is, they did. As a result, there are lots of easy-to-read fact sheets coming out to help you understand the core issues. Here are a few helpful resources:

We have created a separate Enbridge Line 3 tab on our blog to organize this kind of information about Line 3 and make it easy to find. If you think we are missing content, please send us a comment.

Keep reading to get a taste of some of the fact sheets’ analysis. Continue reading