Last June, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) granted Enbridge Energy permission to build a new oil pipeline across Northern Minnesota – cutting through Ojibwe land.
Now, the Youth Climate Intervenors (YCI), an organization that includes Macalester students and young alumni, is preparing to appeal the PUC’s decision in court.
Enbridge proposed the new pipeline in 2014 after an assessment showed that the original Line 3 pipeline, which began operating in 1968, was no longer meeting its standard of safety.
The report showed corrosion and long-seam cracking along the pipeline, making it susceptible to oil leaks and spills. Line 3 did rupture in 1991, when it spilled approximately 1.7 million gallons of oil near Grand Rapids, MN, the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. It is currently operating at only 51 percent capacity.
“It’s no secret,” YCI member Margaret Breen ’20 said. “Everybody’s in agreement. The old Line 3 is decrepit, and corroding, and needs to be shut down immediately.”
The current plan is to replace the old pipeline with a larger and more efficient pipeline along a nearby route, effectively abandoning the original line.
That route will intersect Ojibwe treaty lands near White Earth Reservation in Ogema, MN. Zoe Allen ’22, who has lived on White Earth Reservation for the past 10 years, says the line will pose a particular problem for the wild rice sources in her community.
“Wild rice grows in Anishinaabe country and it’s one of our main traditional foods, sacred to Ojibwe people,” Allen said. “That’s under threat by the proposed pipeline.”
The new pipeline will cut through several wild rice lakes near the Reservation.
“For some people, [wild rice] is their main source of income,” Allen continued. “Everybody goes out in September and harvests it, parches it and sells it… it’s very crucial and sacred to us, as a people. And it’s not everywhere, either. It’s only in specific spots. If those specific spots are polluted, or the pipeline cracks – which it probably will – then we’d be kind of screwed.”
Honor the Earth, the Tribal rights and environmental advocacy group headed by former Vice Presidential candidate Winona LaDuke, has played an highly active role in the Stop Line 3 movement and has supported the YCI in their long legal battle against Enbridge.
Last November, the YCI was one of the few groups granted party status in the legal fight to prevent Enbridge from pursuing the project, arguing that the pipeline would violate Indigenous rights, pollute Minnesota’s lakes and rivers, and contribute to climate change.
Both YCI and Enbridge presented their arguments to an administrative law judge, who issued a recommendation that the PUC deny Enbridge permission to build the pipeline along a new route but allow them to remove the original and install the new in its place.
In addition to YCI’s concerns, the Minnesota Department of Commerce voiced skepticism about the necessity of the pipeline – expressing concerns about the company’s general liability insurance policy, noting that it “contained significant exclusions for insurance coverage related to damages caused by a crude oil spill.”
Even so, the PUC granted Enbridge the Certificate of Need permit necessary to move forward with construction.
Breen disagreed with that decision.
“They kept saying the Enbridge was holding a gun to their head, saying ‘let us build this new one or we’ll ruin Minnesota by running oil through the old one,” Breen said. “Which is really not how that works at all.
“They basically set the precedent that whenever a company wants to do a project like this, they just have to threaten the state with damaging our natural resources,” she continued.“Which is horrible.”
In an email to The Mac Weekly, Enbridge Communications Specialist Juli Kellner wrote that “Enbridge maintains that the MPUC decision was made in accordance with the law, based on full and complete evidence developed and presented over more than three years of open and transparent regulatory and environmental review processes.
“Minnesotans consume more than 12.8 million gallons of petroleum products every day,” she continued. “Enbridge’s system – including Line 3 – is fully utilized today and demand for pipeline capacity is expected to grow, even under the most conservative crude oil production forecast.”
Environmental science professor Christie Manning, who testified as an expert witness on behalf of the YCI, was surprised by the decision.
“After reading what I’ve read, I am astonished that the PUC granted the Certificate of Need,” Manning said. “On balance, the benefits to Minnesota compared to the short-term and long-term risks – there is really no case for this pipeline to be built.
“Pipelines leak,” she continued. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when and how much.”
The YCI filed a petition for reconsideration of the decision in September. Depending on the PUC’s response, they are prepared to take their case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Last year, the YCI represented themselves in court. Now, they’ve handed over the legal reins to third-year University of Minnesota Law student Zach Sibley, who will act as their counsel under the supervision of attorney Kevin Lee.
“The Youth Climate Intervenors believe the Commission significantly deviated from the letter of [the] laws to find in favor of Enbridge,” Sibley wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “Required information and data was never presented to the Commission, where the Commission does engage with relevant facts, its conclusions do not follow a reasonable evaluation of those facts.
“Ultimately, we believe that the Commission will conclude that there is no need for additional investments in fossil fuel infrastructure that will lock in greenhouse gas emissions and put Minnesota on a path to unchecked climate change,” he continued.
Meanwhile, the Stop Line 3 movement is growing more active on Macalester’s campus. Breen and the YCI have joined forces with Fossil Free Mac and Proud Indigenous People for Education (PIPE) to host a series of Stop Line 3 organizing events at the college. The first iteration of this series was a potluck on October 19 that drew nearly 50 students.
“There are a lot of students that are fighting Line 3 off on their own,” Breen said. “What we’re trying to do now is bring it back to the Macalester community.”
On Nov. 6, Molly Sowash ’16 hosted a 30-minute lecture on the Stop Line 3. The coalition of student organizations involved in the movement plans to host more events throughout the year, though no formal dates have been set.
Allen thinks that in addition to the legal movement, frontline resistance will be key in the fight to stop the new pipeline.
“It’s one of the only things left that protesters can do,” She said. “The key is to prolong and disrupt the construction of the pipeline long enough, so that the pipeline companies money runs out and they can’t fund the project anymore.”
YCI founder Akilah Sanders-Reed ’16 noted that young people are often at the forefront of significant political and social change.
“More than ever before, we need young people educating one another, organizing in their communities, and preparing to turn out to the courtrooms, to the streets, and to the front lines,” Sanders-Reed wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly.
“The process failed us, it failed the tribal governments that begged not to have the new pipeline built through their treaty lands, and it failed the people of Minnesota who should be able to rely on our government to listen to the best available science when making their decisions,” she continued.
Sanders-Reed anticipates the YCI will file with the Minnesota Court of Appeals by January 2019. Until then, the organization will continue to organize marches, rallies and fundraisers, and are calling on Governor Mark Dayton to support their movement.
“The fight to stop Line 3 is far from over,” Sanders-Reed wrote.
“We want our allies who have fought this pipeline with us to know we’re not giving up,” she continued. “We’ll keep fighting until Line 3 is stopped, and until indigenous rights are respected and fossil fuels are relegated to the dustbins of history where they belong.”