PUC ignores Line 3’s COVID concerns, buys into Enbridge’s flawed pandemic plan

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) today rejected requests from the Red Lake and White Earth nations to delay construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline.

Further, the tribes said the arrival of out-of-town construction workers would increase the spread of COVID.

Further, the tribes and other intervenors have cases pending in the Minnesota Court of Appeals trying to reverse Line 3 approvals. The issues range from Line 3’s climate damage and treaty rights to the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s argument that Enbridge failed to prove this pipeline is needed.

The tribes argued that if the PUC didn’t delay Line 3 construction, the environmental damage would be done before the court reaches a decision, which would be unfair.

In a 4-1 vote, the PUC rejected the request for a “stay” in construction. Commissioner Matt Schuerger was the lone vote in favor of the stay. He called the tribe’s arguments “persuasive and critically important.”

Red Lake and White Earth are expected to appeal the PUC’s decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

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During pandemic spike, state needs to bar Enbridge Line 3 construction and its influx of out-of-state workers

PUC to hear Red Lake, White Earth requests for pipeline delay on Friday

Native Nations, environmental groups, file suit today to block MPCA’s Line 3 permit

Native Americans are bearing a disproportionate burden of the coronavirus pandemic and getting inadequate government support.

It’s true nationally and in Minnesota. Here, Gov. Tim Walz’ administration has put Indigenous lives at risk by failing to delay Enbridge Line 3 construction and the pandemic risks it entails.

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The pipeline company that cried ‘Wolf!’

Honor the Earth asks the PUC to investigate Enbridge’s false alarm

Once upon a time, there was a pipeline company from Way Up North that said it couldn’t ship all the oil it wanted. It issued a proclamation calling it a Very Big Problem.

Its pipeline needed to run through the Lands Down South. The pipeline company requested a right of passage from local leaders. It told these leaders that its current pipeline was old and ailing and a new one was desperately needed.

The townspeople in the Lands Down South had no use for this new pipeline. They said they did not want it. They said they did not need it. Yet the rulers of the land were befogged by a magic spell and ran to aid the pipeline company.

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Events/Actions: Election Protection volunteers needed, Stronger together to Stop Line 3, and more

In this blog:

  • Election Protection volunteers needed
  • Nonviolence and Religions:  Sources and Practice — Success and Failure, Thursday, Sept. 24
  • Stronger Together to Stop Line 3, Tuesday, Sept. 29
  • Training for non-violent direct action to stop Line 3, Oct. 4-5
  • Urge the MN Public Utilities Commission to prioritize benefits to BIPOC communities

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PUC commits to consult and engage with Native Nations

Honor the Earth’s Winona LaDuke has been on outspoken critic of the PUC.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for the first time has established an official policy on Tribal Engagement and Consultation.

In it, the Commission commits to annual consultations with each Native Nation and establishing a formal process to consult with Native Nations throughout the year when specific issues emerge. Continue reading

Legislative Auditor Report: PUC has done “poor job” in public engagement

Winona LaDuke: ‘PUC has a systemic blind spot in dealing with Native tribes’

Sierra Club: ‘A bad process leads to bad outcomes’

PUC: ‘Improved public engagement is a priority’

The Minnesota Office of Legislative Auditor released a report today critical of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and its public engagement process. The PUC has done a “poor job” in helping the public engage in its complex review process, it said. Specifically, the PUC was “not adequately prepared” for engaging the public during the controversial Enbridge Line 3 pipeline hearings.

The report makes a number of recommendations, such as directing PUC leadership “to provide more oversight of the agency’s public participation processes” and to “better prepare for cases with significant public interest.” (Summary here.)

The 98-page report disappoints in one aspect: It fails to clearly call out that, at least in the case of the Line 3 hearings, the PUC’s public engagement failures focused on Line 3 opponents. The report doesn’t explicitly name staff bias as a problem that needs addressing, and it does.

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The difficulty of getting a clear answer on the protective coating on Enbridge Line 3’s pipes

One of Enbridge’s pipe storage yards. Photo taken summer, 2017

Last week’s blog raised questions about the safety of the pipes Enbridge plans to use to build a crude oil pipeline across 355 miles of  northern Minnesota. The pipes for Line 3 have sat outside in storage yards for years, exposed to the elements. The pipes have anti-corrosion coating that is supposed to protect them underground, but it’s not good for them to sit outside as the sun can degrade the coating.

It seemed like a reasonable question to ask: “What role do regulators play in assuring the pipe’s protective coating still has its integrity if and when Line 3 is built?

It’s been challenging to get a direct answer. The bottom line seems to be that regulators don’t play a role. They have deferred that responsibility to Enbridge. They just seem reluctant to admit it. Continue reading

A regulatory system gone belly-up: Deconstructing Line 3’s ‘Independent Monitors’

Part of an occasional series which explores how government regulatory agencies are biased towards corporate interests, creating an institutional culture favoring polluters over the public interest.

Line 3 current route (orange) and proposed route (green).

Consider the following thought experiment.

Imagine that a company wanted to build a crude oil pipeline 355 miles through northern Minnesota, crossing some of the state’s cleanest waters. That pipeline would carry tar sands crude oil, a particularly dirty form of fossil fuel and difficult to clean up when it spills.

Imagine that government regulators approved the project, but required the company to pay to hire 10 Independent Environmental Monitors to oversee construction on behalf of the state. These monitors would be the on-the-ground representatives for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and other departments.

Imagine — as the pipeline crosses 79 miles of wetlands and more than 200 water bodies — these Independent Monitors would have the authority to stop construction if they saw serious violations that threaten our clean waters.

Now imagine, in an unprecedented move, that government regulators put Tribal Nations and environmental groups in charge of selecting the Independent Monitors and training them. This, the regulators said, would bring more credibility to the process, as it would assure construction would meet the highest possible environmental standards.

What do you think would happen next? Continue reading

An Open Letter to Gov. Walz on Line 3, its public purpose, its costs and benefits, and needed action

Dear Gov. Walz:

Your voice and leadership matter in the debate over the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

You have given Minnesotans the impression that you have no authority to intervene. While you can’t snap your fingers and stop the project, you have more power than you’re letting on. You oversee agencies charged with making sure Enbridge meets all state environmental requirements in the pipeline’s construction and operation. You have the bully pulpit to let citizens know your candid views.

Last year, you told Minnesotans that Line 3 needed not just a building permit, but a “social permit.” We need to hear from you the specific conditions Line 3 must meet to secure such a “social permit.” At a minimum, it should include transparency. So far, the Line 3’s public record is both voluminous and technical, often leading to more confusion than clarity. The state needs to make a clear statement, in lay terms that people can understand, about the project’s public purpose and its costs and benefits. We have yet to get such a statement. Citizens deserve it.

I offer the following summary of Line 3’s public purpose, its costs and benefits, and critiques of the process. I also include specific actions you could take that would move this state in a good direction.

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PUC Commissioner makes strong case against Line 3 plan and strengthens legal cases poised to stop it

Commissioner Matt Schuerger.

After years of research, testimony, organizing, letter writing, pleas, protests, and other public pressure by Indigenous Nations, environmental groups and regular citizens, one Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Commissioner came around to vote “no” on Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 tar sands pipeline expansion.

Commissioner Matthew Schuerger’s lone “no” vote Monday didn’t change the outcome; the PUC approved Line 3’s Certificate of Need and Route Permit on 3-1 votes. Significantly, however, Schuerger’s arguments will lend credibility to the pending lawsuits seeking to overturn the PUC’s ill-considered decisions. Continue reading