The Water Protector Spring is coming

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Contractors work on the Line 3 replacement project outside of Oliver near Superior. (Photo by Elizabeth McMahon/WPR.)

By Winona LaDuke

Are you going to shoot us for a Canadian pipeline company? Or put another way, if this pipeline is such a good idea, why are there so many cops up north?

The Minneapolis Star Tribune just revealed that Enbridge has laid out $750,000 to northern police forces, not counting an undisclosed number of private security forces. That includes non lethal weapons like batons, tear gas and riot gear. Beltrami county, for instance, took $183,000 or so, and they don’t even have a new Line 3 pipeline corridor.

It seems that Governor Walz decided to approve this pipeline because it would create jobs and economic prosperity in the north, and that Enbridge proposed this pipeline would be a safe one. The problem is that is not true.

Enbridge promised that 50% of the jobs would be from Minnesota, but the Star Tribune reports, “…at the end of December …just 33% of the 4,664 workers building the replacement for Enbridge’s current Line 3 were Minnesota residents…Minnesota workers provided only 28% of the labor for the project. Many of those jobs have been in logging and in security….” At the end, Enbridge will be providing 23 jobs over the long term, according to the company. (There are an exceptional amount of local jobs, however, for Native people from Fond du Lac, or perhaps working for Gordon Construction.) A lot of jobs are also in security, and those are what are called “conflict jobs” – sort of like “Blood Diamond jobs”, which pit people against people.

Remember that we just witnessed the Derek Chauvin Trial and the death of Daunte Wilson. Up north, 250 people have been arrested thus far, most of them charged with trespassing and many of them subjected to unnecessary strip searches and held in jails in the north. With a bottomless pile of money, sheriff’s are signing up to follow water protectors. In a time of budget cuts and COVID, Enbridge has “incentivized” surveillance and incarceration of water protectors. Experts in policing question the arrangement. Kevin Karpiak, an Eastern Michigan University professor, said the public safety account raises questions about the broader role and authority of law enforcement, and “who the police work for, and whose interests they represent, or whose interests they claim to represent ..”

Tax returns to Canada
Canadian Enbridge will receive over $55 million back from Minnesota counties in property taxes, according to the Minnesota Tax court. Two of those counties – Red Lake and Clearwater – have been ardent supporters of Enbridge, and now refunds due to Enbridge exceed their annual tax levies.

For larger counties, refunds – “in the best-case scenario” – could still lead to tax increases, service cuts or depleted reserves, Matt Hilgart of the Minnesota Counties Association said, calling it a “tsunami” of the worst possible decision.
Enbridge successfully argued that their pipelines had an accelerated depreciation.

“I just don’t know where we will get the money to do it,” said Bob Schmitz, Red Lake County Auditor. “You can only get so much milk out of a cow.” Enbridge suggests that the new line will provide $35 million in property taxes annually to the counties, but it’s not clear if this true, particularly if the company is allowed to accelerate the depreciation for the pipeline, as it has done in the Tax Case.

Blowing Off Governments
In Michigan, the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac is sixty years old and no longer anchored. The Line 5 pipe was put in before the Clean Water Act or Clean Air Act. In November of last year, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered the pipeline to cease operating by May 12, 2021.

On January 13, 2021, Enbridge rejected Michigan’s order saying, “that the State lacks the authority to terminate or revoke” the easement, a move that it says would wrongfully displace the role of the federal pipeline administrator. Estimates indicate a spill in Michigan could cost $400 billion to clean, if it is possible at all.

Wisconsin also has Enbridge pipes, and a history of spills. Enbridge did not report a spill for l5 months in 2019. In March 2021, Wisconsin officials found that Enbridge had under reported a spill at 1 gallon of petroleum while it was actually over 1200 gallons, which leaked from the Enbridge pipe. Jefferson County residents are questioning why Enbridge Energy took 21 days to repair a leaking underground pipeline that spilled more than 1,200 gallons of petroleum near Fort Atkinson, contaminating soil and groundwater, and did not report the spill to regulators for more than 15 months.

Enbridge is running a huge campaign, touting “reconciliation” with tribes, yet the company is suing the Bad River tribe, trying to force the tribe to accept the 13 mile pipe through the reservation, despite the tribe ordering the company to remove the aging Line 5.

End Game
Enbridge is moving as quickly as they can. On March 23, the Minnesota Court of Appeals heard the case of the White Earth Anishinaabe, Red Lake Nation, Department of Commerce, and other groups challenge the certificate of need and route permit.

In June, the court will render a decision. That may stop the pipeline, and it may not. We will see, and certainly, there are thousands of people hoping that the Minnesota Court of Appeals will stop Enbridge’s expansion into the north. Two other major pipelines got cancelled in the past few months: the Jordan Cove Pipeline (another Canadian pipeline project, heading for the Oregon Coast and Chinese exports) and the Keystone XL Pipeline. No pipeline projects can prove that they could protect the environment, or meet a climate test, let alone benefit the people.

What we know is that before the court decision will come, Enbridge will return, after a hiatus due to road restrictions, and they will be moving as quickly as possible. In the meantime, investments into the tar sands have been plummeting, and Enbridge is hoping to blow life into the industry ­– literally the dirtiest and most expensive oil on the market. In a time of climate crisis, this is about Canadian oil and Canadian profits. We will see how the Home Team does. The Court Decision is due at the end of June.

On April l, the company sent home about 3000 workers due to road restrictions. Although the company has told the media the pipeline is almost 50% completed, on the ground reports indicate less than 35% of the pipe is in. Those workers and the company will return with a vengeance. The courts have not done well for pipeline companies. The company would like to get the pipeline in before the court overturns the permits, as in in the Dakota Access Pipeline and Standing rock.

For Enbridge, there is not one river. There are twenty two rivers which Enbridge must cross. As the company takes a pause from destruction let’s remember our waters, our prayers and our generations ahead. The Water Protector Spring is coming, and most Minnesotans don’t think that Water Protectors should be shot for a Canadian pipeline company.