By Scott Russell
More than 150 people gathered in front of the Minnesota House of Representative’s chambers Thursday for an emergency rally opposing a deeply flawed jobs and energy bill. In addition to a number of other terrible things*, this bill weakens public review of proposed crude oil pipelines in Minnesota in general, and it specifically fast tracks the Enbridge Line 3 tars sands oil pipeline proposal.
Enbridge wants to replace its badly deteriorating Line 3 crude oil pipeline with a new and larger pipeline – and reroute it in the process. The new path would take it through the Mississippi headwaters regions, risking great environmental damage if there were a rupture. The proposed route also runs through prime wild rice areas and violates treaty rights which give Ojibwe people hunting, fishing and gathering rights to a large section of northern Minnesota.
People came to the Capitol to drum, speak, pray and chant, raising their voices in opposition to Line 3 and the bill, SF 1937.
Heid E. Erdrich showed up with her two teenagers and her sister Louise. “I came as a living person who drinks water, as a Mom, and as an Obijwe person,” she said. “This is unfair to us in particular.”
“We need to start speaking up now for water and our state. It is the emblem of our state and totally at risk from this bill, which allows pipeline companies to do whatever they want, bypassing normal procedures.”
The bill came to the House floor with problems. It left in worse shape than it arrived. The House amended the bill allowing Line 3 to bypass Public Utilities Commission (PUC) review. As expected, it passed 76-55
The bill cuts off debate at the PUC about whether or not we need Line 3. For instance, Sierra Club research shows that in 2016 Minnesota’s petroleum fuel use was 19 percent lower than its 2004 peak. This project makes no sense. We don’t need it. And if this bill stands, we don’t get to make that argument in a public forum.
The bill isn’t heading to the Governor’s desk just yet. It now heads to conference committee with the Senate. At a press conference the following day, Governor Dayton said he would veto this omnibus bill provision to go around the Public Utilities Commission.
So let’s share with Dayton that we support this. Grab your cell phone and call Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and tell them: “I am calling to oppose Enbridge Line 3 and the provisions in SF 1937 that weaken pipeline approval and oversight. Please get your veto pen ready!” The phone number is 651-201-3400.
Many Voices at the Rally
A number of young people attended the rally. Nina Berglund, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and a Gordon Parks High School student, said she wanted to be a voice of the youth at the rally. Tachanna Charpenter, a Hamline University student, was walking the Capitol halls to lobby on the Minnesota State Grants program. She was drawn to the rally. Environmental sustainability is more important to her, she said, “than how much money we can make by destroying the only planet that we have. I also believe this is a good demonstration of why our politicians need more diversity and more perspectives.”
Rally participant Kris Lambert said he had concerns about Enbridge’s plan to abandon a large section of the existing Line 3, leaving it in the ground to rot. One would assume, he said, that when the first Line 3 was installed some 50 years ago, it was sold based on promises of job creation and pipeline safety. Those promises get made and people forget them. Now we have a failing pipeline in the ground. And the same sales pitch is happening today for a new Line 3.
(Note: To Lambert’s point, a Line 3 rupture near Grand Rapids in 1991 resulted in the largest inland crude oil spill in U.S. history, gushing some 1.7 million gallons. Much went into the Prairie River, a Mississippi tributary. Only winter –and the frozen river – kept this spill from being a downstream disaster. Enbridge did not own Line 3 at the time of that rupture. However, Enbridge has one of the worst safety records of major pipeline companies. It was called out as incompetent by the National Transportation Safety Board for its role in the massive 800,000 gallon spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010.)
Organizations sponsoring the emergency rally included Honor the Earth, Native Lives Matter, Friends of the Headwaters, Big Sandy Lake Association, Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation, MN350, Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, Northern Water Alliance of Minnesota, Take Action Minnesota, and the Sierra Club North Star Chapter.
*Some of the other pieces of this bill that are a problem are:
- Elimination of the Made in MN and Renewal Development Fund elimination
- Additional weakening of Public Utilities Commission oversight for energy
- Bans municipals from banning plastic bags
- Legislative misappropriation of the Volkswagen settlement
- Rollbacks on MN Energy Conservation Programs
- Budget cuts for the Department of Commerce and Public Utilities Commission