By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership.
Last week, the Public Utilities Commission declared that the environmental impact statement (EIS) for Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 oil pipeline was inadequate, and that the Department of Commerce would have to revise it within 60 days. The required changes are few in number, but this will delay the PUC’s final decision on whether to approve Line 3, originally estimated to conclude in April. This is a step in the right direction. The PUC commissioners should have complete information on the pipeline’s impacts before making a decision. And they made an encouraging statement that the pipeline could not be constructed before a survey of cultural resources – resources important to Minnesota’s indigenous communities – can be completed.
When the commissioners make their final decision on whether the new Line 3 will get a certificate of need and move forward, they should protect Minnesotans by taking into account what we know about this pipeline.
- The Department of Commerce has recommended that the replacement Line 3 not be granted a certificate of need because Minnesotans don’t need it – and its risks outweigh any benefits.
- Minnesota’s demand for petroleum continues to fall – oil sales in our state are down 19% since 2004. What’s more, there’s so much unused capacity in the existing pipeline system that even without the old or the new Line 3, the current system could transport the same amount of oil and still have than 600,000 barrels per day of extra capacity.
- Minnesota’s tribal communities have repeatedly stated that this pipeline would be an unacceptable threat to their cultural resources like wild rice and clean water, which are legally guaranteed to them by treaty. A Line 3 spill would release toxic tar sands oil into these lands and waters – and once tar sands spills, restoring the site is virtually impossible.
But it’s not just water and land pollution that would cost Minnesotans – Line 3 would be a hit to our pocketbooks. When a pipeline is built, needed or not, local oil customers end up paying transportation costs even if the pipeline is underused, due to shipping rates set by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It is estimated that Minnesotans would end up paying at least $1 billion over 15 years in higher fees for the pipeline to move oil through our state to Wisconsin, even though we don’t need to use it here. The new US Bank Stadium cost roughly that same amount – now imagine if instead of Minnesotans using it, it would only host Green Bay Packer games. Regardless of one’s team affiliation, the analogous Line 3 makes little sense for Minnesotans.
Finally, the oil carried by Line 3 would be Alberta tar sands oil, which emits significantly more carbon pollution than conventional crude. This would exacerbate climate change at a time when its effects are becoming increasingly apparent – and dangerous. We can’t move forward on protecting future generations from climate change while building more unnecessary and expensive fossil fuel infrastructure.
We call on the PUC to continue looking at the facts, and to make the right decision on Line 3 in 2018. This pipeline isn’t needed by Minnesotans – but we would pay for it, both with our dollars and with the damage it would do to our land, air, and water.
By Jeni Gregory, Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Minnesotans love to talk about weather. In recent years, winter brings a flurry of conversations about the shortage of frigid days and good old-fashioned snowstorms. While this week fulfilled some fundamentals of a Minnesota winter with plunging temperatures, wind-driven snow, and treacherous driving conditions, we started the week with record-breaking mild weather.
While it’s easy to speculate that Minnesota winters aren’t what they used to be, a recent report illustrates just how much temperatures are actually changing here. The report from nonprofit group Climate Central shows that winters are warming faster in the Great Lakes and Great Plains than anywhere else in the U.S. In parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and northern New England, winters have warmed at an average rate of more than 1 degree per decade since 1970. Mankato and Minneapolis ranked among the fastest warming cities with a 6 degree increase; Fargo is 5.9 degrees warmer and Duluth registered 5.8 degrees warmer.
Sean Sublette, a meteorologist with Climate Central, explained that the coldest places are warming the most because, “It takes less energy to warm something cold than it does to warm something already warm.” He added that’s why the Arctic and Antarctic areas are among the fastest warming on Earth.
In Minnesota, this warming has meant shorter seasons for snow and lake ice which has impacted businesses that depend on outdoor winter recreation. It means that pests like the Japanese beetle and emerald ash borer are more likely to survive winter, allowing for major attacks come summer. It’s also having an effect on birds’ migratory patterns and our state’s habitat and wildlife.
Warming trends are expected to continue, and the consequences are getting harder to ignore. While milder winters are appealing to some, climate change has increased catastrophic weather events across the country, including Minnesota. Please visit Climate Generation’s website for information on how you can take action on climate change.
This week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of two hazardous bills – H.R. 3115 and H.R. 3905 – that would provide major boosts to copper sulfide mining proposals in Minnesota. These bills support the PolyMet mine near Hoyt Lakes and the Twin Metals mine near Ely, respectively. The two mine proposals are in different watersheds, but both could have catastrophic effects on the water, land, and people in those areas.
PolyMet seeks to mine for copper and nickel at a site in the St. Louis River watershed. the PolyMet project would require water treatment long after the mine closes, for 500 years or more. The processing plant is built on an abandoned taconite site, raising the walls of a 40 year old dam by hundreds of feet and layering sulfide mining waste on top of an unstable foundation of taconite mining waste. A failure of this dam would have catastrophic consequences on communities living downstream. The St. Louis River flows into Lake Superior, meaning our greatest freshwater resource would be endangered as well. This land is also in the heart of 1854 Treaty Territory and will impact treaty rights and downstream communities, including the Fond du Lac Reservation.
H.R. 3115 would push forward a land exchange between the federal government and PolyMet that is currently under litigation. The bill bypasses due process on this critical decision. And PolyMet hasn’t completed the required permitting process, so forcing the exchange is a problematic step at this time. Unfortunately, the bill passed the House on Wednesday. We hope the Senate will not follow up with similar legislation. The PolyMet permitting and approval process will be a long one, and this would be a dangerous step in the wrong direction.
H.R. 3905, also known as the MINER Act, would override the authority of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management and grant mineral leases to the Twin Metals copper-nickel mine project. Federal agencies rejected mineral leases for Twin Metals because they concluded it was too risky in this water rich environment without further study. The Twin Metals mine would extract sulfide ores in the Boundary Waters watershed, and threaten our vulnerable waters and the livelihoods and jobs of Minnesotans who live and work there. H.R. 3905 would subvert science and due process not only by approving these leases, but by requiring Congressional approval for agencies to withdraw mineral leases anywhere in the country. And it would single out Minnesota for unfair treatment by eliminating the presidential power to create national monuments in our state.
H.R. 3905 passed the House on Thursday, but it did so by a thin margin of only twelve votes, and the high level of opposition is a strong boost to the effort to make sure a similar bill does not succeed in the U.S. Senate. This legislation would set a bad policy for this and future copper sulfide mining proposals.
Thanks in large part to the tireless work of advocates, including MEP’s staff, friends and partners, there was significant pushback against both bills.
We thank all of those who took action against these bad bills, and we have no intention of stepping aside in the face of this continuing challenge. We urge all Minnesotans who value clean water, healthy communities, and sustainable jobs to continue to speak up! You can call the United States Senate at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your Senators’ offices to tell them to oppose giveaways to PolyMet and Twin Metals. Or visit our website, mepartnership.org, where we’ll be posting action forms you can use to email your Senator on these destructive bills. It’s time for all of us to speak up to defend our waters, our economy, and our communities.
We know it’s felt like a tough year for our great outdoors, with many challenges to clean water, our greening economy, and public health in our state. But when we look at what we’ve accomplished and what we’ve defended in 2017, we find we have so many people and things to be thankful for!
- We’re thankful for the hundreds of Minnesotans who showed up to the Capitol on Water Action Day in April to tell our lawmakers to protect our water!
- We’re thankful for young activists working tirelessly for environmental justice – like the 13 Youth Climate Intervenors making a stand for the climate in the face of the proposed Line 3 oil pipeline.
- We’re thankful for the incredible growth in clean energy – and the many jobs it brings – in Minnesota. Our state is stepping up and showing national leadership on wind, solar, and energy efficiency, helping us work toward ever more ambitious climate goals.
- We’re thankful for our member organizations, old and new, who have made tremendous efforts this year to keep Minnesota clean, and to keep building a strong, inclusive, diverse coalition of environmental groups.
And most of all, we thank you, our subscribers, donors, action-takers and supporters!
- We are grateful for everyone who donated on Give to the Max Day. You helped raise $6,500 in just 24 hours! Contributions help MEP support the work of environmental organizations across the state as we work to protect clean water, clean air, and pollinators!
- We are grateful for the many thousands of contacts you made with your elected officials on behalf of Minnesota’s great outdoors this year! Your voices helped advance some important measures and put pressure on lawmakers to defeat many proposals that would have harmed our state’s land and water.
- We are grateful to all those who help us share our message on social media, email, and in calls and meetings with your lawmakers – thank you for spreading the word on Minnesota’s great outdoors!
We couldn’t do it without you. From all of us at the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, thank you for helping to keep Minnesota beautiful, clean, and safe!
By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Next Wednesday, November 22 will mark the conclusion of the Public Utilities Commission’s public comment period on the proposed Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. Since late September, the PUC has been collecting testimony from intervenors and members of the public on this proposal, specifically on the issue of the certificate of need and route permits that Line 3 would require. Without the PUC’s approval, the new Line 3 project can’t keep moving forward.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce has concluded that the dangers of this pipeline to Minnesotans far outweigh any benefits. But with the debate continuing up to the PUC decision, Line 3 backers have attempted to convince public opinion, through ads and articles, that the pipeline is necessary for Minnesota’s economy and healthy for the environment. To help ensure that the debate is balanced and based in sound science, MEP has released a fact sheet on Line 3, and addressed some of the disingenuous claims that have been put forward.
- “Minnesota needs the oil that the new Line 3 would carry.” Apart from the fact that Line 3 would carry tar sands oil from Canada to Superior, Wisconsin, Minnesota’s demand for finished petroleum products like gasoline is down 19% from its 2004 levels.
- “If the old Line 3 is shut down, there won’t be enough pipeline capacity.” In fact, even if the old Line 3 were shut down and not replaced, there would be at least 500,000 barrels per day of capacity on the existing network to haul this oil – which is declining in volume.
- “Without this pipeline, we’ll have to ship oil by rail, which is more dangerous.” Oil by rail has declined sharply in Minnesota, and there’s little sign it’s going to return. Since the peak in 2014, oil by rail traffic in the state has decreased by 70%. And while oil trains do run higher risk of accidents, rail spills are easier to clean up and tend to be smaller in volume than pipeline spills.
- “Minnesota may be moving away from fossil fuels, but we still need this oil for now.” While it’s true that Minnesota won’t transition to an all-electric, green economy overnight, this oil is a bridge too far. The tar sands oil that Line 3 would carry is among the dirtiest on earth, with more than 30% greater carbon emissions than conventional crude. Burning the fossil fuels from already-used sources and infrastructure is projected to push the world above a 2% global temperature increase, which spells even greater climate catastrophe in years to come. We need to redouble our investment in renewable technology and jobs, not subsidize a declining, environmentally disastrous fuel source.
By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership
This week, delegates from 195 countries are meeting for the COP23 conference in Bonn, Germany to work on solutions to climate change and further advance the Paris Climate Accord. The meeting coincides with the announcement that war-torn Syria has begun its accession to the agreement, leaving the United States as the only country not supporting the accord. The federal government will still participate in the climate talks in Bonn, but the Trump Administration’s officials plan to host a panel to promote fossil fuel and nuclear power generation, rather than engage in discussions on clean, renewable energy solutions. With 2017 recently recorded as one of the three hottest years on record, (along with 2015 and 2016) this is an especially poor time to abdicate American leadership on climate change.
Fortunately, Minnesotans aren’t backing down from this challenge, or from representing a better path to the international community. MEP partner organization Climate Generation is leading a group of Minnesotans in Bonn, where they’ll be participating in meetings with fellow leaders and advocates. They’re attending to share ideas and learn about what the rest of the world is doing to tackle emissions. And they’re demonstrating that while federal leaders may not be interested in contributing to the Paris Accord, Minnesota is still in.
As a member of the United States Climate alliance, Minnesota is committed to meeting the emissions goals of the Paris Accord and the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, and our energy industry is making enormous strides toward those goals. Since 2006, we’ve increased the share of our power that comes from wind from 4% to 18%. Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy is planning to invest $3-4 billion in wind power in the next few years, creating low-emissions power and passing along cost savings to consumers as it replaces cost-intensive coal usage. Solar has also been a success story: Minnesota’s solar capacity grew 80% in the first three months of 2017 alone.
Ongoing developments in clean power generation and batteries mean that we can continue to transition our economy to rely on clean-generated electricity for living, commerce, and transportation. Using steel, sun, and wind for fuel will continue to grow jobs and slow the carbon emissions that are endangering our climate. And while the U.S. government has failed to act as a strong global leader on this clean revolution, our state continues to light the way, in Bonn and at home.