Advisory council’s resignation shines light on environmental injustice in Minnesota

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Earlier this week, twelve of the seventeen members of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) Environmental Justice Advisory Group (EJAG) announced their resignation from the group, citing the MPCA’s approval of permits for the proposed Line 3 oil pipeline as the proximate cause. The resigning members also detailed patterns of dismissal and disregard for their work and advice by the agency.

As of this writing, the MPCA no longer advertises the group in their webpage on Environmental Justice.

These twelve individuals include folks working in education, medicine, and environmental advocacy, who share a commitment and expertise on the ways that past and present agency decisions have disproportionately harmed indigenous people and people of color. In advance of this resignation, the Environmental Justice Advisory Group had previously expressed opposition to the new Line 3 and signed onto an op-ed against the pipeline authored by MEP in collaboration with several other organizations.

By resigning in the face of the agency permitting decision, these twelve members have made an important, strong statement about the MPCA and the Walz Administrations’ priorities in this matter. MEP briefed both of those entities on how they could deny permits for Line 3 in a way that would hold up to legal challenges. They chose to do otherwise, in spite of thousands of Minnesotans and the group they had appointed to advise them on environmental justice saying that the pipeline is environmentally unjust.  

The new pipeline’s projected impacts on climate are profound and well-established, and the expected impacts of its construction and operation on Ojibwe communities will be deeply harmful. As the resigning members wrote, Line 3’s construction will bring with it the same patterns of sexual violence and exacerbation of the missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW) crisis as other pipelines. It will violate the treaty rights of tribal nations, several of which already have oil pipelines through their lands. Many health professionals now project that Line 3’s construction will cause a rise in local COVID-19 cases. All for a Canadian company to profit by moving unneeded oil through Minnesota.

The problem goes deeper than just this pipeline. Minnesota has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation on public health and environmental quality. In the Twin Cities, communities of color tend to suffer hotter summer temperatures than predominantly white areas, having more concrete and fewer trees. These communities suffer higher rates of lead poisoning, air pollution, and asthma.

The list goes on and on, and every item on it is a damning indictment, not of personal choices, but of policy decisions that Minnesota’s government has made for decades. These decisions – redlining, pipeline approval, ignoring treaty rights, zoning heavy industry in areas of poverty, and failing to invest more in public transportation – have betrayed Minnesotans of color. Not all of these decisions were made in the name of white privilege, but with such enormous racial inequity, structural racism in the environment in which we live is their ultimate effect.

Minnesota has a lot of work ahead to make amends. For their part, the MPCA needs to assess their level of commitment to environmental justice, and consider whether they can serve the interests of a foreign pipeline company and marginalized Minnesotans at the same time. The agency should take proactive steps to determine how to better include whatever entity succeeds this advisory group in its decision making. It’s time for the agency to recognize that simply sticking with their historic understanding and use of the law and following past practices is simply not adequate leadership for today’s new realities.

As Henry Ford said; “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” And that’s just not good enough for the people of Minnesota or our beloved natural environment.

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