Regular citizens left in the dark about Line 3’s threats to wild rice

Leech Lake members harvest wild rice on Mud Lake. (Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Wild rice is sacred food to Anishinaabe people and Minnesota’s state grain, but the state has no uniform definition of “wild rice waters.”

This creates problems when evaluating the threat to “wild rice waters” from projects such as Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline.

The proposed Line 3 route would cross 340 miles of northern Minnesota — right through the heart of wild rice country — crossing more than 200 water bodies and 75 miles of wetlands. In order to get state approvals, Enbridge needs to show it can build the pipeline through all that water and mitigate the damage to wild rice and other sensitive ecosystems.

Understanding Line 3’s threat to wild rice remains an open and troubling question. Enbridge just submitted a new application to the state for Line 3’s water crossing permit (technically called a Section 401 permit). One might think that Enbridge would want to reassure the public that wild rice would be protected under its plan. Instead, Enbridge submitted highly technical reports that make it nearly impossible for the average citizen to understand this critically important issue.

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Enbridge admits Line 3 construction can’t meet all state environmental standards for protecting water

So why is the project still under consideration?

The proposed Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline will run 340 miles through northern Minnesota, crossing more than 200 water bodies and 75 miles of wetlands. It also threatens wild rice areas important to the Anishinaabe.

Stunningly, Enbridge already has admitted to state regulators that pipeline construction won’t meet state environmental standards for protecting water. Adding to the problem, Enbridge hasn’t provided details about which environmental standards it plans to disregard or where. Instead, Enbridge has provided generalities which essentially boil down to: “Trust us.”

Sadly, the “Trust Us” argument appears to have traction among state regulators, another example of the power imbalance favoring industry in the state’s regulatory system. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) seemed to have ample trust in Enbridge, approving the project last year over many objections. For instance, it ignored Anishinaabe bands’ claims to treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather on lands and waters threatened by Line 3.

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DNR Approves Enbridge Line 3 “Pre-Construction” Work; Trump Expected to Weaken State’s Pipeline Oversight

The controversial Enbridge Line 3 pipeline still faces significant court challenges and needs numerous state and federal permits, but Enbridge already has begun to work on the project.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has given Enbridge permission to conduct “pre-construction” work for its Line 3 crude oil pipeline on DNR-administered state lands, the DNR says. “These activities include civil and environmental survey and geotechnical boring,” the statement said.

The DNR’s statement came in response to questions posed by Healing Minnesota Stories about reports that Enbridge might have begun Line 3 construction prior to receiving necessary permits. Continue reading

Pushing Back on the PUC, Part II: State Agencies Criticize Enbridge Line 3 Promises, Seek Changes

This is the second in a series that will review responses to Enbridge’s last-minute promises to improve its Line 3 pipeline project. The PUC adopted these with no pubic scrutiny. This blog looks at the responses from state agencies. The last blog will look at responses from Friends of the Headwaters.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) allowed Enbridge to change its proposal after the official record had closed. Specifically, the PUC accepted Enbridge’s deal sweeteners and voted to approve them without giving regulators or the public a chance to review and critique them.

While Enbridge’s promises might look good on paper that’s no guarantee they will deliver.

In today’s blog, we look at the many questions and concerns raised by state agencies involved with project oversight: the Minnesota Department of Commerce (DOC), the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

These responses show just how little thought Commissioners gave Enbridge’s proposals before giving them the green light.

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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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