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‘Next Standing Rock’ Looms as Minnesota PUC Approves Line 3 Pipeline Expansion

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Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline expansion received approval last Thursday from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), prompting opponents to promise Standing Rock-style protests if that’s what it takes to stop the controversial project.

InsideClimate News notes [1] that the replacement pipeline “would allow for a significant increase in exports of Canadian tar sands crude oil, which is difficult to extract, costly to transport, and has a high carbon footprint compared to other crude oil. Currently, 2.5 million barrels of tar sands crude is exported from Canada each day, and the region has an oil glut exacerbated by years of opposition to building new pipeline capacity.”

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Pipeline opponents warn that the project risks oil spills in pristine parts of northern Minnesota where Indigenous communities harvest wild rice they consider sacred, and essential to their culture. Honor the Earth founder Winona LaDuke promised full use of available regulatory measures, and mass protests if necessary, to stop the pipeline.

“They have gotten their Standing Rock,” she said.

“You have just declared war on the Ojibwe!” added Brent Murcia of Youth Climate Intervenors. “We will not let this stand.”

The five PUC members unanimously backed the project, “though some cited heavy trepidation, and a narrow majority later approved the company’s preferred route despite opposition from American Indian tribes and climate change activists,” CBC reports. “Several commissioners cited the deteriorating condition of the existing line, which was built in the 1960s, as a major factor in their decision.”

“It’s irrefutable that that pipeline is an accident waiting to happen,” said Commissioner Dan Lipschultz. “It feels like a gun to our head…All I can say is the gun is real and it’s loaded.” Commissioner Katie Sieben said the decision was “so tough because there is no good outcome.” PUC Chair Nancy Lange “choked up and took off her glasses to wipe her eyes as she described her reasoning for approving the project,” CBC states.

MN350 countered [3] that the PUC had “chosen to disregard an extensive record, including the adamant recommendation of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, that shows the project does not meet need criteria and should not be built.” As well, “we see treaty rights and future generations being utterly tokenized and disregarded—brought up as examples of ‘good participation in the process,’ then kicked in the shins and shown the door without their fundamental concerns addressed.”

The commissioners willingly imposed a US$287-billion climate change cost on future generations, with the three Democrats on the PUC “speaking primarily in support of Enbridge’s views, with not a single one willing to say that the pipeline should not be built,” MN350 added. “If you’re looking for courage in the room here today, don’t look behind the dais. The courage is in the pipeline opponents in the room, and in the overflow rooms, and in the crowd outside, and in the resistance camps along the route, and inside all of us who try to act in ways our descendants would be proud of.”

Oil Change International Senior Research Analyst Lorne Stockman called [4] the decision “a complete failure by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to hear the concerns of Indigenous communities and other Minnesotans demanding the rejection of the Line 3 tar sands pipeline. It’s a failure for our climate, and for the water that will be at risk if this pipeline is built. The fact that some commissioners expressed regret in being forced to come to this decision exposes not only the failure in the existing law, but also the failure of courage of the commission to do the right thing. We stand with Minnesotans who will continue to resist this unnecessary pipeline.”

On Thursday evening, Enbridge President and CEO Al Monaco declared himself “pleased” with the PUC decision. “Replacing Line 3 is first and foremost about the safety and integrity of this critical energy infrastructure,” he said in a statement.

But Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton held out a sliver of hope Thursday evening, in a statement that urged parties to “express themselves peacefully” and remember that the PUC decision was not the end of the process.

“It only allows Enbridge to begin to apply for at least 29 required federal, state, and local permits,” Dayton said. “Those regulatory reviews, which address numerous issues not considered by the PUC, will take several months. Approvals are by no means assured, and they would require any such project to meet Minnesota’s highest standards, protecting all our state’s earth, air, water, natural resources, and cultural heritage. I assure that state agencies will fully uphold those high standards as they review these applications. Construction cannot and will not begin unless Enbridge receives all required permit approvals.”