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.

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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.

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Tribal Liaison For Enbridge Line 3 Quits State Job, Cites Minnesota’s Lack of “Good Faith” Effort

The state’s point person working to elevate Native voices around a proposed crude oil pipeline in northern Minnesota has quit her job, citing a lack of transparency and good faith effort by the state, according to a story in The Intercept.

Danielle Oxendine Molliver, a member of the Lumbee tribe from North Carolina, worked as the tribal liaison for the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the lead agency in shepherding the Enbridge Line 3 project through the regulatory process. Line 3 would carry tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin, traveling 337 miles through northern Minnesota.

Oxendine Molliver explained her decision to resign in a July 24 letter, quoted in The Intercept article.

“There are a multitude of reasons why I have come to this decision. The single most important one is the failure of the state of Minnesota to fulfill its obligations of good faith and fair dealing with the tribes in connection with the Line 3 project.”

She added, “I feel as though my resignation is the only option to maintain my integrity, commitment, and standing with the tribal communities as both a liaison and indigenous woman.”

It is the latest controversy over Enbridge Line 3. In related news, the first non-violent direct action against Enbridge Line 3 is set for Cloquet this Monday. Here is a link to the event page.

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Your Help Needed to Stop Enbridge Line 3, Public Comment Period Now Open

Honor the Earth’s map showing Enbridge Line 3’s current and proposed routes through northern Minnesota. The green area represents where the Ojibwe have treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather wild rice.

The public comment period is now open for a proposed crude oil pipeline running 337 miles through northern Minnesota, threatening our lakes and rivers and Ojibwe livelihood and lifeways. The pipeline would carry tar sands crude, a particularly dirty form of fossil fuel, for Alberta, Canada to Superior Wisconsin.

This is Minnesota’s version of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Honor the Earth, the Sierra Club’s North Star Chapter, MN350 and other groups are organizing to stop the project, known as Enbridge Line 3. Enbridge has a current Line 3 which is old and failing. It wants to abandon that pipeline in the ground and install a new and larger pipeline along a new route, which will pass through the Mississippi headwaters region and prime wild rice areas. (See map at right.)

The Minnesota Department of Commerce released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (dEIS) on May 15, and the public comment period runs through July 10.

Here is how you can get involved: Continue reading

“Environmental Justice” Analysis of Proposed Crude Oil Pipeline is Flawed, Lacks Native Voices

The Minnesota Department of Commerce just released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on a proposed crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. The project, Enbridge Line 3, would run 337 miles from the North Dakota border to Duluth/Superior, including stretches through the Mississippi headwaters region and prime wild rice waters.

The 1894-page document includes a short section on Environmental Justice. To its credit, it acknowledges the pipeline would infringe on Anishiaabe (Ojibwe) treaty rights and exacerbate historical trauma. But it lacks Native voices and is silent on some important questions.

The Environmental Justice section concludes:

Disproportionate and adverse impacts would occur to American Indian populations in the vicinity of the proposed [Line 3] Project.
Then a few lines later:
A finding of “disproportionate and adverse impacts” does not preclude selection of any given alternative. This finding does, however, require detailed efforts to avoid, mitigate, minimize, rectify, reduce, or eliminate the impact associated with the construction of the Project or any alternatives.

That’s an indirect way of saying Anishinaabe voices and treaty right don’t really matter — the project can proceed based on what non-Native people consider to be fair mitigation.

Let’s take a hard look at the Environmental Justice chapter in the EIS. Continue reading