Construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline could start next week — Call Gov. Walz!

Construction on the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline could start as early as next week. It’s a project that threatens clean water, climate, and treaty rights. It makes no sense given the oil market is floundering and the project unneeded.

Our political leaders and regulatory institutions have failed us.

It’s time once again to put pressure on Gov. Tim Walz.

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How will the MPCA handle Enbridge Line 3’s water quality certificate? Minntac’s example is alarming

Part IV and last in a series exploring how the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has failed for decades to enforce water quality standards against U.S. Steel and its Minntac mine in northern Minnesota.

Tribes, environmental groups, and concerned citizens won a victory recently, when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) agreed to allow challenges to its proposed approval of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline.

To proceed with Line 3, Enbridge needs the MPCA to issue the project a water quality certificate. The agency had tentatively given the OK.

Public pressure got the MPCA to reconsider, and it ordered a contested case hearing. Administrative Law Judge James LaFave will handle the proceedings, expected later this summer. The hearings will allow intervenors — White Earth Nation, Red Lake Nation, Honor the Earth, Sierra Club and Friends of the Headwaters — to challenge the facts the MPCA used to reach its decision.

This is a significant win. The MPCA doesn’t seem inclined to use its regulatory authority to protect water quality. One troubling example is the MPCA’s failure in 2014 to use the water quality certificate process to force U.S. Steel to address ongoing pollution problems at its Minntac taconite mine in northern Minnesota.

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State Legislature has passed laws to undermine the MPCA’s ability to enforce water and wild rice protections

Part III of a series exploring how the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has failed for decades to enforce water quality standards against U.S. Steel and its Minntac mine in northern Minnesota.

Minntac viewed from Mountain Iron

Making laws can be messy. We want to believe that the end result is democratic and fair.

In reality, we know that some groups have stronger political connections and more money, and that can influence outcomes. We need to know that we have strong political institutions that can provide balance, making sure sound science is followed, that Native Nations and other communities with less power get heard, and the public interest is best served.

The state of Minnesota in general – and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in particular – have failed to strike that balance when it comes to regulating U.S. Steel’s Minntac taconite mine, and other mining operations, and the water pollution they generate.

The MPCA has much to answer for regarding its ineffectiveness in regulating Minntac’s mine wastewater, but it’s also important to acknowledge that the legislature and pro-mining lobbying interests have undermined the agency’s ability to take a tough stand in recent years. Continue reading

The MPCA’s stunning ineffectiveness in protecting state waters from mining interests: A timeline of inaction

Part II of a series exploring how the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has failed for decades to enforce water quality standards against U.S. Steel and its Minntac mine in northern Minnesota.

Looking north from Mt. Iron at Minntac.

Water is central to Minnesota’s identity – the Land of 10,000 Lakes. We pride ourselves in clean water and a clean environment, and preserving it for future generations.

We want to believe that rules and laws apply equally. Just because someone has more money or more political clout doesn’t mean the rules don’t apply to them.

Yet for decades, U.S. Steel’s Minntac mining operation has violated state water quality rules, notably the “Wild Rice Rule” that limits sulfate pollution to protect wild rice. When wild rice dies, the harm falls hardest on the Ojibwe people for whom it’s a sacred food.

Sandy and Little Sandy lakes, just downstream from Minntac, once had 200 acres of wild rice which are now gone.

It’s the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA’s) job to “to protect and improve the environment and human health.” Yet taking the Minntac taconite mine as a case study, the agency has failed to do its job. Continue reading

Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline Storage Yards Appear to Violate Law, MPCA Approved Them with No Scrutiny

Pipeline storage yard near White Earth.

For years, Enbridge has operated large pipeline storage yards around northern Minnesota in anticipation that the Minnesota Pubic Utilities Commission (PUC) would eventually approve its Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline through the state.

However, critics say Enbridge got permits for these storage yards in 2014 and 2015 under false pretenses. It applied online through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for storm water construction permits. It checked the box that said the project had completed all necessary environmental reviews. While that wasn’t true, the permit got electronically approved because all the correct boxes were checked.

The Star Tribune wrote about the controversy today’s paper in an article headlined: Pipeline opponents claim Enbridge skirted permit rules for storage yard: Enbridge in a statement said the “permits were issued in compliance with applicable regulations at the time.”  A key passage says:

Under law and MPCA regulations, permits such as those for Enbridge’s pipe yards aren’t supposed to be issued before the completion of an environmental review for an entire project. The MPCA wrote to Enbridge in March that the pipe-yard permits were approved “prior to completion of the required environmental review” of Line 3.

(Note: It was only this month that the Line 3 environmental impact statement was deemed “adequate” by an administrative law judge, and it still needs final PUC approval.)

These storage yards create the impression that this pipeline is a done deal. They show disregard for the ongoing review and approval process. They are an attempt to bias the project.

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