By Winona LaDuke
On September 28, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency denied an essential permit to the Enbridge Line 3 Project, adding more setbacks for a highly controversial project. Continued setbacks are putting more at risk for the company, which is also being sued to get a forced removal of it’s aging Line 5 pipe on the Bad River Reservation in Wisconsin, and facing similar challenges in Michigan.
The Line 3 Project, now three years behind, still has a lifeline as the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled against the Anishinaabe and in favor or the company. That’s to say, in mid September the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to review an Appeals Court decision rejecting a Traditional Cultural Properties (TCP) survey of Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 route. The appeal was filed by White Earth Red Lake, Mille Lacs and Honor the Earth. The assessment would be a part of the pipeline’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The Mille Lacs, Red Lake, and White Earth Bands requested early in this process that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) include on-the-ground surveys as part of the EIS so that the PUC could choose the route with the least impact on native peoples. Instead, the PUC relied on incomplete paper records. Basically, our land and our history is not recorded. And Enbridge got a lifeline from the Court.
The Appellate Court decision means that a formal consideration of our water, wild rice and traditional territories is not a part of the state regulatory process. The state should have learned about this problem from last year’s desecration of 30 Ojibwe graves by the MDOT. Then MNDOT Commissioner Charlie Zell called “an incredibly horrific event.” The highway department desecrated 33 Ojibwe graves while rebuilding a bridge on Highway 23 in Duluth, because MNDOT did not consult with the Fond du Lac Band and conduct an on-the-ground survey before the bulldozers rolled.
Although not surprising that the Court will not hear the appeal (they review about one in ten ) Enbridge’s share value moved up slightly with the decision. Line 3, however remains in peril, both in the legal process and in the financial world. Enbridge lost a huge court ruling in June, which forces the state to reckon with a spill disaster on Lake Superior. That remains a big obstacle for the corporation.
To be clear, this is Enbridge’s most important project, but the three years of delay on this project, brought by the White Earth, Mille Lacs, Red Lake bands and Honor the Earth as continuing plaintiffs, has caused uncertainties in this pipeline and other projects.
Adding to that, the Bad River Band of Anishinaabe filed suit in August to demand that Enbridge remove the aging Line 5 from the Bad River reservation. Chairman Mike Wiggins note “ their pipeline is in a dangerous dance with our river and land”, as Wiggins pointed to the exposed pipes.
In the meantime, Enbridge has moved forward with Gordon Construction, and despite federal court rulings which would have blocked the Enbridge pipeyards, has continued to promote racism and police calls on water protectors. It’s an ugly time and will likely continue over the winter as Enbridge faces more delays in a project which is already three years behind schedule.
Part of the problem is that this is an export pipeline, meaning profits for Enbridge. Greed, not need. According to the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) “prime supplier” data, total petroleum fuel sales in Minnesota are down 19 percent from a 2004 peak, and have been stable since 2010. This data also shows that total US oil demand peaked in 2007 and has been dropping for the past year. It is a myth that we need more oil.
Proposed Line 3, and it’s expanded volume, would increase US exports of crude oil and petroleum products. It will release millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide, something we don’t need. US exports have grown from 1 million barrels per day to 8.7 million barrels per day. The PUC preferred to support additional exports to foreign oil buyers rather than protect Minnesota’s Anishinaabe people from the harm caused by the Line 3. That failure of Minnesota policy is the subject of a legislative review, focused on the PUC’s treatment of Native people, the public and Water Protectors.
Despite Enbridge’s trajectory, the world is changing. Tar sands investments are at an all time low, and the amount of oil coming from the tar sands continues to decrease. Investors are fleeing as the $83 a barrel oil can’t find a market. Big oil no longer rules the world: Exxon/Mobil dropped out of the top ten of the S and P 500 for the first time in nine decades. And while the richest people were once oil executives, now six of the ten richest people in the world are tech heads. How that translates – the defacto prohibition on renewable energy is ending.
Amazon.com announced it will be carbon neutral in 2040, with 80% of its power coming from renewables by 2024. They just announced a buy of l0,000 electric vehicles, Google is following suit, along with Daimler Engines (they brought us the gasoline engine) which has announced it will move entirely to electric engine work. Toyota has just brought the Toyota Mirai, a fully hydrogen powered vehicle on line – that’s zero emissions. And Rose Marcario, Patagonia CEO, tweets out, “ The plain truth is that capitalism needs to evolve if humanity is to survive.”
Enbridge needs to evolve. Now would be the time to begin cleaning up the old mess of the 6 pipelines through our territory – that could be in bioremediation with hemp and mushrooms, and some good work for all of our people. After all, taking out old pipes (like they will have to at Bad River, and Leech Lake) is a good paying job, and one day, big boys have to clean up their mess.
While the rest of the world is moving towards renewables, we will too at White Earth. Enbridge will likely dig its way out of the investment coffin, if only for a while, as the risk is rising for this project. And, in the time of the wild ricing, we will continue to care for our water and wild rice. That’s what we hold sacred, even if the Court doesn’t recognize our people and our way of life. We live it.