Standing against Line 3 in the face of a lockdown

Posted by

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

In a departure from our usual MEP voice, this article is an opinion piece that has been written from the author’s personal perspective.

I’ve been going to the Minnesota State Capitol for work, for volunteering, and for sightseeing, for the past seven years. For most of that time, it’s been open to the people of Minnesota, the people to whom it belongs. Understandably, its doors were shuttered last year due to the rampant COVID-19 pandemic, but then opened once again to the public this year.

This week, the Capitol complex was locked down again – this time, because Minnesotans were coming to stand together against the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline at the Treaties Not Tar Sands event.

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’ll understand why we oppose Line 3, and what a disaster it would be for climate, water, and Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) culture. You’ll likely also know that this fight has been happening for a long time, with Line 3 only the latest incarnation of Big Oil’s Black Snake, as many indigenous organizers call it. And it’s the latest episode of a long, cruel history of settler colonialism trampling on the rights of Indigenous people. 

The title “Treaties Not Tar Sands” refers to the rights of Anishinaabe tribes to gather wild rice, fish, and other resources from lands set by treaties in northern Minnesota. The Enbridge pipeline network snakes through treaty lands and reservations in the headwaters of the Mississippi and Lake Superior. One such pipeline was the site of the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, and many of us understand how inevitable it is that the new Line 3 will leak its toxic tar sands oil, given the company’s track record. The construction process has already resulted in spills of industrial chemicals along the route, which has resulted in the Pollution Control Agency, not suspending work on the project, but doing an investigation, the results of which we will likely know after Line 3 construction is complete.. The State of Minnesota, however, made sure to lock down the Capitol to stop peaceful protestors from doing…whatever they thought we would do if allowed into our building.

On Wednesday, I went to the Capitol, one person among more than two thousand, and found the 115-year-old building surrounded by fencing, concrete barriers, and state troopers positioned every couple dozen feet. They weren’t wearing riot gear or holding batons, but the presence of the troopers felt like a message to those of us who came to peacefully protest: This building does not belong to you. This government does not belong to you. The law is not on your side.

Compared to the water protectors putting their bodies on the line to resist Line 3, we had it easy. I’ve heard news reports and firsthand testimony from friends and colleagues about resisters facing pepper spray, rubber bullets, mass arrests, and helicopters blowing dust directly into their lungs. Police have illegally blockaded Indigenous-owned lands in violation of their treaty rights. 

Enbridge, it seems, has the entire state regulatory process and law enforcement apparatus to protect its interests. The people of Minnesota, especially the Anishinaabe, have ordinary folks willing to put their health and liberty on the line.

In the face of all this, Treaties Not Tar Sands has been a spirit-raising event, one that is forcing politicians to reckon with where they stand on Line 3. I watched from up the hill as a parade of resisters walked up John Ireland Boulevard to the front steps of the Capitol past teepees set up earlier in the week by Indigenous leaders. There were people of many races, ages, and backgrounds united in common cause to protect water and climate from this pipeline. It was bittersweet seeing kids attending – a mixture of pride for their willingness to act, and sadness that they have to because the adults in charge won’t protect their future.

The event started with a prayerful ceremony with singing and dancing, honoring the Anishinaabe water walkers and elders who have led the resistance to this pipeline. But the speakers made clear that all of us who showed up, or have opposed Line 3 are all honored in this fight, because it is a fight for all of us. They spoke of all the values we hold together – water, climate, tribal rights, the safety of Indigenous women – and why we must protect them from this pipeline. Despite what the pro-pipeline crowd may say, we’re not defined by our opposition to this pipeline, but by the dreams that unite us. We didn’t pick this battle, but we cannot and will not do otherwise.

I saw friends and colleagues at the rally, as well as legislators and other community leaders (though the Governor did not make an appearance). There were journalists documenting the story, and ordinary folks sharing their experience with the world. As the Line 3 fight has dragged on through multiple years, more and more people from around Minnesota, the country, and the world have joined their voices to oppose it. That solidarity hasn’t yet won the victory we need, but it’s keeping us going, and it’s helping to build power.

As I write this column, there are still resisters occupying the space in front of the Capitol after the permits have expired, holding space and keeping the eye of our state on this fight, facing overwhelming attempts by police to make them leave. They also demonstrated at the State Fair. They’re making it clear to Governor Walz and President Biden that arguments about simply “following the law” on this pipeline, as Walz said in an interview on Friday, aren’t acceptable, nor Governor Walz’s statement that stopping one pipeline won’t fix the climate crisis. 

The laws of chemistry say that if we don’t stop building fossil fuel infrastructure and start retiring what we have now, we won’t recognize the planet we live on several decades from now. The Governor and the President have the power to stop this pipeline, and the responsibility to do whatever they can to protect our future.

Treaties Not Tar Sands reenergized many of us at a time when we need all the hope we can get, and it shined a spotlight on just how unjust it is that resisters have to fight this battle, faced with Enbridge’s money and the police power of the state. Line 3 is scheduled to come online very soon, and while it may be harder to shut down once operational, we will not stop pressuring leaders to change course before it’s too late. The fight will continue.

If you’re waiting for a signal to take action, this is it. Here are two simple things you can do right now:

  1. Visit the Resist Line 3 Twitter account to find out where resources are needed. Resisters frequently need food, supplies, and monetary donations.
  2. Contact Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan and President Biden and tell them that business as usual on this pipeline is unacceptable. Simply shepherding it through the process to allow it to be built falls short of climate leadership, when we need climate action more than ever.

Read More:
Minnesota Reformer: ​​2,000 rally against Line 3 at state Capitol
Star Tribune: 2,000 protest Line 3 at Minnesota Capitol
Sahan Journal: Indigenous protesters, allies make a push in St. Paul to stop Line 3
MPR News: Line 3 opponents not giving up despite nearly complete pipeline project

For previous columns, visit mepartnership.org/category/loon-commons-blog/. If you would like to reblog or republish this column, you may do so for free – simply contact the author by replying to this email.

MEP joins call for state to Move On from PolyMet

Posted by

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, MEP joined a dozen organizations and more than one thousand individuals in signing on to the Move On from PolyMet campaign, an effort to convince the Walz Administration to cease its support for the PolyMet mine proposal.

After a winding path, the state’s permits for PolyMet – the first ever sulfide ore mine to have received permits in Minnesota – have been overturned. The Walz Administration now has to make a choice on how to respond. Given the overwhelming scientific evidence that PolyMet would irreparably harm lands and waters in Northern Minnesota, opposition to PolyMet from state leaders would go a long way to protecting people and resources.

As with the Line 3 pipeline, the DNR and Pollution Control Agency (PCA) under Governor Walz have argued that they have simply “followed the process” in permitting the mine. But the courts have found various problems with the process, including violations of state law and collusion to keep science out of the public record. The agencies now have a chance to go back to the drawing board and right the wrongs.

The unprecedented threat

Under PolyMet’s proposal, the mine would be built near Hoyt Lake in the St. Louis River Basin in an area where iron mining had previously been conducted, an area that includes a dam that stores tailings from the iron operation. In one of the most scientifically dubious parts of its proposal, PolyMet has proposed to expand and use that dam to store its own waste. That waste would include sulfide compounds, which react with water to form highly toxic sulfuric acid. A spill or overflow event from that dam would be catastrophic to ecosystems and people downstream. At the very least, it would require indefinite maintenance to keep the waste contained long after the mine has ceased operation.

There are obvious issues with allowing this type of mining to be conducted in the headwaters of Lake Superior when it has never been done without polluting the surrounding environment anywhere in the country. Downstream neighbors of the PolyMet site include the Fond du Lac Band, the Duluth area, and the Lake Superior watershed, all of which would be under threat of water contamination.

In addition, PolyMet would harm the climate and air quality of Minnesota at a time when both are extremely vulnerable. Its destruction of 930 acres of wetlands would generate a large quantity of emissions and damage one of Minnesota’s most crucial carbon sinks and habitat areas. Its industrial operation would generate significant levels of air pollution, which is at issue in the current permit controversy facing state agencies.

Because of the evident pollution issues this mine would create, PolyMet – working with Minnesota state agencies – has attempted to game the process of approval. The company tried to downplay the size of the project in order to avoid more stringent air pollution permit conditions, which resulted in the permit being sent back to state agencies by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

On PolyMet’s behalf, the PCA worked to keep federal Environmental Protection Agency concerns about the project’s impact on water quality out of the public record to grant PolyMet smoother sailing. The EPA’s Inspector General said earlier this year that the EPA has clearly botched its oversight of the process. 

The Court of Appeals also denied PolyMet’s DNR permit to mine because it had no expiration date – in violation of state law – and because its plans to contain its waste are inadequately proven. The DNR essentially gave the company a green light, with the costs to be paid later by the people of Minnesota.

State agencies need to turn the page

As they have done with the Line 3 oil pipeline, the DNR and PCA have treated PolyMet as a client to be catered to, not considering the full scope of likely pollution that needs to be controlled, or rejecting the full proposal as warranted. The Walz Administration seems to have largely bought into the “jobs” argument made by PolyMet, despite the fact that mining is becoming increasingly automated and the pollution generated would threaten other sectors of employment.

Environmental advocates and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa have fought the agencies’ industry-oriented attitude every step of the way, in court and in the public record. Clean water and air are not resources we can take for granted, especially in this era of climate change and rampant pollution in our drinking water reserves. 

The Move on from PolyMet campaign seeks to build the case for what state agencies should have done all along – reject PolyMet’s attempts to muddy the waters in its permitting and deny the company permission to mine. The campaign welcomes further organizations and individuals to sign on and tell the Governor that, after all of PolyMet’s legal problems and shell games, it’s time to chart a new course.

There is no more room for climate denial

Posted by

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

As most of our readers will be aware, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report that said in no uncertain terms that the world needs to act immediately to stave off catastrophic warming in the face of storms, drought, ecosystem disasters, and immense human costs. The report was not surprising, but it serves as a wake-up call for anyone still sitting on the fence when it comes to the need for dramatic action on climate.

The report was backed by exhaustive, peer-reviewed, well-established science. It was not hyperbolic, and not without hope, but it laid the stark costs of continued inaction to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And it called for governments around the world to act immediately and decisively to break the dominance of fossil fuels and protect the planet. Major Minnesota newspapers, including the Star Tribune and the Mankato Free Press, published editorials calling for Minnesota and the nation to heed the report’s warnings.

In the environmental community, we’ve known this was coming. We’ve worked to educate lawmakers and convince them to take ambitious action. We’ve raised public awareness of the problem, and of the fact that solutions exist that will make our communities healthier and safer. 

There have been some positive steps, like the Minnesota Clean Cars standard and the investments in the new federal infrastructure bill. A federal Clean Electricity Standard may soon be forthcoming from Congress as part of the appropriation bills under consideration, championed by Senator Tina Smith. But while these steps are positive, they are not going to get the job done. We need to go further.

Minnesotans are ready for a change. A poll conducted by Climate Nexus and released earlier this year by MN350 shows that two-thirds of Minnesotans support legislation to achieve a 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate impacts in our state became perhaps more visible than ever on July 29, when Minnesota suffered the worst air quality in recorded history due to Canadian wildfires caused by drought. The entire state has been parched by these hot, dry conditions. Worsening weather patterns are anticipated to threaten our drinking water, air quality, and native species even more in the coming years.

Now, we need our state leaders and lawmakers to catch up and start treating this crisis like the top priority it is. An examination of the official social media pages of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation shows that only Senator Tina Smith and Representatives Angie Craig, Betty McCollum, and Ilhan Omar have made posts regarding the IPCC report since it came out, as of this writing.

Actions, of course, speak louder than words, but those have been limited as well. The Walz Administration continues its refusal to halt the Line 3 pipeline, even in the face of chemical spills and its monumental climate impact as a long term investment in new fossil fuel development. We call this a Giant Step Backwards. Minnesota does not have a comprehensive public plan for rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels, just a patchwork of policies that move too slowly and institutions that cave far too readily to what fossil fuel companies want.

This is no time to wait around for other states and countries to take the lead, because there is no time. We need Minnesota to lead on all aspects of climate action –  transportation, electricity, agriculture, and buildings – and stop digging the hole deeper by allowing fossil fuel infrastructure to be built or continue to be propped up.

In the coming months, MEP and Minnesota’s environmental community will push state and federal leaders to chart a course forward away from fossil fuels as Minnesotans demand. Protecting our future must be priority number one.

Minnesota officially first clean cars state in the Midwest, with federal action coming soon

Posted by

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last Monday, the State of Minnesota officially adopted the Clean Cars rules proposed by the Pollution Control Agency under Governor Tim Walz. Starting in 2024, these rules will require Minnesota auto dealerships to make available a certain percentage of zero-emission electric vehicles on their lots.

The Clean Cars standards were originally adopted in California under an agreement with the federal government, with the option for other states to adopt these same protections. Since then, fifteen more states elected to do so, with Minnesota being the most recent and the first in the Midwest. These are not all warm-weather states like California, either – every New England state but New Hampshire has adopted the same standards.

The Trump Administration worked to halt states’ authority to adopt these rules and weaken emissions standards, but the Biden Administration has announced that it will reverse these rollbacks and push forward. On Thursday, President Biden set a target that 50% of all new vehicles sold by 2030 will be zero-emissions models. In addition, the Biden Administration is planning to roll out tighter emissions standards for all new vehicles nationwide.

Once it takes effect in 2025, the Minnesota Clean Cars rule will still be a useful backstop to ensure that more electric vehicle choices will be available to Minnesotans. Currently, the vast majority of EVs are going to states that have adopted Clean Car Standards, mostly in the Northeast or Pacific coast states. With the new Clean Cars rule in place, Minnesotans and our neighbors will be able to access these vehicles. Along with investments in charging stations across the state, EV adoption will be poised to take off dramatically.

Vehicle electrification is a crucial component of achieving the cuts to greenhouse gases we need to protect our climate. Transportation is the largest source of emissions in the nation and has gotten worse as Americans have trended toward buying SUVs, trucks, and vans rather than more efficient cars. Currently, EV models in America generate a third the emissions of fossil fueled vehicles, a number that will only improve as we transition to cheap, renewable electricity.

In some ways, the Clean Car transition is inevitable. Major automakers around the world are pledging to transition to all-electric vehicle lines, and in Norway – a country with a cold climate that outdated conventional wisdom would say is not ripe for EV adoption – EVs made up more than half of all new vehicle sales last year. The EV revolution is here, and we need it to go faster to protect our climate.

The Clean Cars process wasn’t easy, though. The GOP-controlled Minnesota Senate, spurred by the Auto Dealers Association, tried various tricks to kill the Clean Cars rulemaking, even threatening to shut down environmental agencies and state parks unless they got their way. Failing that, they retaliated by forcing the resignation of Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop, despite her moderate record. At the same time, they stonewalled other climate measures passed by the House, and Senate Majority Leader Gazelka pressured Bishop to approve permits for the Line 3 pipeline (see article below.)

But climate denial at the Legislature is being exposed as more and more out of touch as the costs of this crisis mount. As the drought deepened across the state, last Thursday saw the worst day for air quality in Minnesota’s history as smoke from the Canadian wildfires rolled across the entire state and affected millions of people, especially those with heart and respiratory conditions. There should be no more space for climate denial now that we can see and breathe this crisis.

We need much more and much bolder actions on emissions to protect the livability of our planet, especially relating to transportation. MEP will continue advocating for investments in public transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and a transition away from new road projects and highway expansions that don’t serve our future. But we’re proud that Minnesota is leading the way on Clean Cars in the Midwest, and we hope to see this transition get underway even faster.

MEP and partners explore the next evolution of farming

Posted by

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Monday, July 19, MEP and Friends of the Mississippi River co-hosted a field tour of the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative, a program to develop crops and farming systems to transform agriculture in Minnesota. Joined by legislators, state agency leaders, and other key stakeholders, our team took part in presentations, hands-on demonstrations, and panels to demonstrate the incredible value of this Minnesota-grown program. MEP and many member organizations have been long time supporters of this initiative. The Land Stewardship Project has provided key leadership over the years.

The tour and presentations centered on an issue that is a key question for Minnesota to answer: How do we reshape our agricultural systems to not only be profitable, but also be designed to restore our land, water and climate?

There’s no question that this is a critical issue. The present system we have is very effective at producing vast quantities of crops like corn, soybeans, and sugar beets, and has resulted in Minnesota having the fifth-largest agricultural economy in the nation. But it’s not effective at protecting the natural resources on which we all depend. Agriculture and land use is one of the top sources of greenhouse gases in Minnesota, accounting for about a quarter of our emissions. Fertilizer-heavy corn and soybean farming has led to nitrate building up in the surface waters and groundwater that Minnesotans rely on for drinking. And the wholesale destruction of habitat and use of pesticides has decimated pollinators and other wildlife.

But in order to create durable change in the current system, we need to create a feasible and worthwhile path for farmers to do so. Farmers care about soil health and wildlife, but the current system of large-scale commodity agriculture creates headwinds against any attempt to change. Farmers need to know that they aren’t betting on a crop without an adequate market.

The Forever Green Initiative and its partners aim to thread that needle by breeding crops that produce  income, while also providing water storage and filtration, soil health, habitat, and other ecosystem services, then help to establish supply chains and markets for those crops. By working on the separate components at the same time – crop development, farmer adoption, and supply chain economics – this needed transition is starting to get some real traction.

A sampling of the crops:

Kernza© 

Kernza banner showing actual size of root system

Intermediate Wheatgrass or Kernza is a breed originally developed by the Land Institute in Kansas. It’s a perennial crop, meaning that it will stay on the land and produce grain over multiple years, rather than needing to be reseeded each growing season. The grain has applications including use in flour, cereal, beer, and other products. In addition, it can serve as forage and can be harvested for animal feed and straw.

Kernza’s ecological benefits are significant, and mostly relate to its incredibly deep root system. Corn roots extend a few feet into the soil, while Kernza’s roots stretch closer to thirteen feet. This enables Kernza to survive drought conditions with minimal irrigation, to hold soil together, and absorb nutrients far more efficiently, reducing the need for fertilizer. By relying less on these inputs, Kernza can protect and restore soil, reduce the stress on aquifers, and reduce the load of nutrient pollution ending up in the groundwater. Recent field trials have shown that Kernza reduces nitrogen loss from soils by more than 95% compared to corn.

Oilseeds – pennycress and camelina 

UMN researcher Ratan Chopra presents results of pennycress research

These oilseed plants are among the most commercially promising crops that Forever Green researchers are developing, and the process of breeding them toward market readiness has happened remarkably fast. These crops are efficient at producing plant oils and will have applications in food production, biodegradable plastics, biofuels (including jet fuel), and other areas.

A key advantage of the oilseeds is that they can be used in combination with corn or soybeans. These winter annuals and can be interseeded with these crops during the growing season and will remain on the field throughout the winter, helping prevent erosion and fertilizer infiltration of groundwater. They renew their growth early in the spring, and their flowers provide nectar for pollinators without interfering with other crops. They are harvested in early June.

Hazelnuts

Forever Green’s hybrid hazelnut bushes

European hazelnuts are a well-established crop, especially in the Mediterranean region, but are not suited for the climate of Minnesota. American hazelnuts, which grow in bushes rather than trees, have the advantage of hardiness in Midwest winters and are resistant to blight, but are less suitable for commercial use. By crossbreeding to create a new hybrid, researchers are nearing the point of developing a viable crop to help meet the massive demand for hazelnuts.

The hazelnut bush is another perennial crop that establishes deep roots in the soil, helping it to prevent erosion, efficiently use nutrients, sequester carbon, and protect water. It also provides valuable habitat for native birds and insects.

Building on science

From left to right: Rep. Samantha Vang, Rep. Leon Lillie, Professor Don Wyse, Rep. Ginny Klevorn

Professor Don Wyse, the key faculty member behind Forever Green, is the first to emphasize that the program doesn’t just produce new crops – it produces scientific expertise. Forever Green researchers have gone on to spread and expand on their knowledge at other companies and institutions, growing the body of knowledge around these new crops. Through this work, the University contributes to a growing scientific community working to change the farming systems of Minnesota and the nation to be healthier for our climate, our water, and our wildlife.

The next steps

As these crops are developed, farmers are the key partners who bring them to the land and ultimately to market. Only a tiny percentage of Minnesota’s cropland is currently planted with Kernza, but that level is growing rapidly. The farmer co-op leaders who partner with Forever Green believe that they can successfully make the case for buyers to try new, regenerative crops, beyond the historic reliance on corn and soybeans, especially in the face of droughts, low prices, and consolidation of land by large companies.

For farmers and for our environment, Minnesota needs to build a new relationship with our farmland. MEP is proud to support Forever Green as it points the way.

Great River Energy plans to break promise to shutter Coal Creek power plant

Posted by

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On June 30, Great River Energy announced that it planned to sell its Coal Creek Station power plant to Rainbow Energy, a North Dakota company. This plan contradicts Great River’s pledge, made a little over a year ago, to shut the coal plant down due to its high cost to consumers and substantial climate impact, in line with its broader promise to cut emissions. 

Great River Energy had planned to switch over its generation to wind and other sources, saving consumers money and helping transition away from coal. Under the terms of the sale, the utility will be moving away from coal generation on paper. But it plans to simply buy the power back from Rainbow. The divestment from coal is a legal fiction – a rigged shell game. And while Rainbow claims that carbon capture and storage will mitigate the climate impact of the plant’s continued operation, that solution is unproven at best, as well as expensive for consumers, especially relative to ever-cheaper wind prices.

A lack of transparency

Great River is the second-largest utility in Minnesota in terms of power generation (after Xcel) and is the state’s largest not-for-profit power cooperative. The co-op is owned collectively by 28 smaller co-ops throughout the state and serves more than 700,000 consumer-members. Its decisions on power generation thus have an enormous impact, and are in theory accountable to those members – though this does not necessarily ensure transparency in Great River’s decisionmaking.

As MEP Member CURE has detailed, Minnesota’s electric co-ops are notorious for their lack of transparency. They provide little public information on energy generation, governance, or how members can exercise their ability to influence their co-op or run for the board of directors. And because Great River is a co-op of co-ops with these issues, it has several layers of insulation between its top decisionmaking and the interests of the Minnesotans who buy its electricity.

It appears that local politics and short-term gain have had a greater influence over this decision that Great River’s members. Coal Creek is the largest power plant in North Dakota, and local government officials in the area are opposed to the plant’s closure, going as far as to disrupt plans to increase wind production in McClean County where the plant is located in order to prop up the obsolete, expensive plant. Rather than work to break the impasse and protect consumers and the climate, Great River has taken a route that is easy for its leaders in the short term and harmful down the line, to the planet and to people living near Coal Creek.

Not a done deal

Great River and Rainbow have presented this sale as an inevitability, making it appear as if there is no way for its customers to dissent. But this is not the case – there is still time to stop the sale. If a sufficient number of its co-op members oppose the deal, Great River can be forced to live up to the promise it made last year to shut down Coal Creek. Connexus Energy, a co-op that serves parts of Central Minnesota and the Twin Cities Metro, already voted against it.

Among the largest and most influential co-op member of Great River is Dakota Electric Association, serving more than 100,000 customers in Dakota County. Dakota Electric will be holding a board meeting on July 29 at which it will consider the sale. If Dakota Electric’s Board chooses to join Connexus in opposing it, it will be a strong signal to Great River to reconsider.

Great River’s leadership doesn’t want its co-ops to vote against the decision to sell, and has made the process opaque and difficult to follow for consumers. The regulations and systems that govern electric co-ops largely favor this top-down model. But at the end of the day, the utility must still be accountable to its owner-members, and responsible for its impact on our climate and air quality.

How you can help

Use this action alert from our friends at MN350 to contact Great River Energy co-op leaders and ask them to stop the sale. It’s especially impactful if you are a member of one of Great River’s co-ops – contact Great River directly or reach out to your local co-op to express your opposition to the continued operation of Coal Creek Station. If not, reach out to people you know who may get their power from the utility. If enough like-minded consumers stand against this sale, this sale can still be stopped.

Senate ouster of MPCA commissioner continues pattern of environmental stonewalling

Posted by

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last Wednesday, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop was pushed out of office after Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka informed her that the Senate would vote against confirming her, effectively removing her from her position. The Republican-controlled Senate had announced a few days earlier that they would be holding hearings on several Walz Administration cabinet members before adjourning from their special session. Commissioner Bishop was the only one of the officials who lost her job, choosing to resign rather than face a vote in the full Senate.

While Sen. Gazelka made references to the Senate’s powers to fire executive branch officials if they aren’t doing their jobs, the Senate majority’s motivation for ousting Bishop was discussed openly: they were opposed to moves she made or considered as Commissioner to protect Minnesota’s environment from polluters. The Walz Administration’s MPCA-led Clean Cars rulemaking, which will help make electric vehicles more widely available at Minnesota dealerships, was the most visible issue of controversy.

Commissioner Bishop’s ouster shows just how far removed the Minnesota Senate is from Minnesotans’ views on climate action and environmental protection.

Bishop led the MPCA for two and a half years, through three regular and numerous special sessions. The Senate has had the power and the opportunity to vote on the confirmation of the Governor’s officials during that entire time. While they did hold a hearing about Bishop’s performance last year, they did not choose to force her out until this month – right after the environment budget passed without the Clean Cars rollback that they wanted. The Senate took a similar action in 2020 when they fired Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley – retaliating for his financial regulations and his department’s continued opposition to the Line 3 oil pipeline.

Perhaps the most ironic aspect of the Senate’s decision is that Clean Cars is a broadly-supported, relatively modest step toward reducing transportation emissions. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not a groundbreaking change, and is already on the books in more than a dozen other states. Many vehicle companies are moving toward electric models anyway, but the Clean Cars rules will help them become available to Minnesotans faster to help us cut emissions and get a leg up on the market.

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership has appreciated the steps Commissioner Bishop took to protect Minnesotans from the climate crisis, mercury, lead poisoning and other measures. That’s not to say we always agreed with Commissioner Bishop on the issues, particularly with regards to permitting that has been accommodating toward large, polluting businesses. But with Bishop’s ouster from the MPCA, the Senate has signalled that they are willing to chose a destructive partisan path to punish those steps taken and score political points against Governor Walz.

What happens next at the MPCA is up to Governor Walz. The lesson that we hope he takes away from this unfortunate firing is that even a well-qualified, business friendly MPCA commissioner advancing modest policies is not enough to stave off the Senate’s antics. Instead of caving to them, he should direct the agency to let science drive their work and to act boldly on climate and environment, addressing threats like Line 3, sulfide mining plans, and factory farms. If we move at the pace the Senate wants us to, we won’t be getting anywhere near where we need to go.

The costs of hosting Enbridge pipelines pile up in Minnesota

Posted by

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

The Minnesota Legislature passed a number of investments in the state’s natural environment this year. Apart from passing the overdue Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund appropriations, the Legislature provided $4 million for incentivizing farmers to implement cover crops, $1.35 million for other soil healthy farming practices, and $4 million for the Forever Green Initiative, which researches next-generation market based regenerative cropping systems, as well as other funds to benefit clean energy and combat climate change. 

But a big pot of funding was also allocated to pay for an accident – financial, not environmental – concerning Enbridge, the Canadian oil pipeline company that operates several lines through the state. In this massive “money spill,” the Legislature passed $30 million to cover a tax refund for Enbridge after a court decided that for several years, the state Department of Revenue had overstated the value of its pipelines that cut across our state. This generated higher tax payments to Minnesota counties for hosting its pipelines. The state will also repay an additional $16-18 million through reducing Enbridge’s tax bills in future years.

If the bill hadn’t passed and a settlement with Enbridge hadn’t been made, thirteen counties would have been on the hook for the bill. Most of them are rural and have low populations, poorly equipped to cover these several years’ worth of property tax losses with their own revenue. The problem wasn’t the counties’ fault that this had happened – they couldn’t have predicted that Enbridge would sue the State of Minnesota or that courts would find that the Department of Revenue had erred.

But it does point to a bigger question. The state has permitted these six pipelines and the ongoing construction of the new Line 3 pipeline, which would operate with twice the capacity of the existing Line 3. It’s clear how Enbridge benefits, as they have a new way to transport oil from the Alberta tar sands, and get guaranteed income from fuel tariffs. But apart from a large and evidently volatile source of income for thirteen counties, what do we, the people of Minnesota, get out of the bargain?

The human cost

The ground resistance to Line 3 has been largely led by Indigenous- and women-led organizations like Giniw Collective and Honor the Earth, with many others in support. They resist because the pipeline is a violation of Ojibwe rights, as it threatens resources like wild rice waters that are guaranteed to the tribes by treaty, and a threat to the planet.

As we wrote in June, the non-violent resisters have been met with arrest and physical harm at the hands of state and federal law enforcement serving Enbridge’s interests. Earlier this week, Hubbard County law enforcement blockaded an Indigenous-led camp on private property, an action that violates Ojibwe rights to access treaty lands and resources. 

Meanwhile, the human harms that Indigenous communities predicted are happening before our eyes. This week, at least two men working on the new pipeline were arrested in a sex-trafficking sting – not the first such incident since construction began. It’s well-established that where pipeline construction happens, sex trafficking happens, exacerbating the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis. These concerns were presented to state officials before, and permits were granted anyway.

The environmental cost

The pipeline’s costs to land and water are still to be fully realized, but we know that a pipeline spill in the vulnerable wetlands of northern Minnesota would be catastrophic, and we know that the largest ever inland oil spill in the United States happened on an Enbridge pipeline in our state.

Currently, a new environmental issue has arisen with construction: Enbridge has been granted a DNR permit change to temporarily move five billion gallons of water in order to keep its construction trench dry. The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe opposes the permit as it threatens wild rice waters that are already suffering in drought conditions. Indigenous leaders say that the DNR barely discussed the permit change with the tribes before granting it.

And although it may feel like playing a broken record at this point, the fact remains: the annual greenhouse gas emissions from the oil that Line 3 would transport would be greater than those from all other sources within Minnesota combined. We can’t meet our emissions reduction needs while operating the pipelines we already have, much less adding more.

We need an exit strategy

Enbridge and other fossil fuel companies paint a picture of being “good corporate citizens” of Minnesota. But this is a fake narrative. They take advantage of legal systems that were set up to advantage them, of state agencies that view them as customers to be served, and of law enforcement agencies that obliges them in harming protesters. Starting with Line 3, Minnesota needs to start cutting ties with the fossil fuel industry.

What you can do: Contact President Biden at 202-456-1111 and ask him to revoke permits for Line 3 as he did for Keystone XL.

Special session concludes with compromises, some key wins for Minnesota’s environment

Posted by

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

As the Minnesota Legislature began its first special session 2021 last week, the DFL-controlled house and GOP-controlled Senate faced a deadline of June 30tht to reach deals on state budgets and policy – otherwise, a government shutdown was on the horizon. As of this writing, a shutdown seems unlikely, with most budget bills passed and on their way to Governor Walz for signature.

While these budget bills were compromises, they contain better results for Minnesota’s environment and communities than in other recent years. These successes are a testament to strong efforts by the environmental community, legislative allies, and Minnesotans who made their voices heard.

Environment Funding

Things looked tense for entities like the DNR (including the state park system), the Pollution Control Agency, and the Board of Water and Soil Resources over the past month, with the Senate threatening to block funding for those agencies unless the omnibus Environment bill blocked or delayed Governor Walz’s Clean Cars Rule. But after pressure from Minnesotans to drop that demand and pass a budget, the Senate left Clean Cars out of the equation, and those programs will be fully funded. In addition, the Legislature finally passed appropriations for two years from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund to support numerous important restoration and research projects around the state. Minnesota voters created that fund by supporting a constitutional amendment to improve the state’s environment, and it’s good to see the Legislature living up to their responsibility to wisely spend it.

The Legislature should have gone much further to combat climate change and water and soil degradation, but did pass nearly $5 million to plant trees for carbon sequestration and to combat emerald ash borer. It also agreed on a total of $3.75 million to support farmers’ efforts to implement soil-healthy farming practices.

Environmental Protections

The Environment bill’s impact on policies that keep Minnesotans and our environment safe was more mixed. On the one hand, the bill includes a welcome ban on PFAS, a harmful and ubiquitous “forever chemical” that does not break down, in food packaging in the state. On the other, it rolled back a rule intended to reduce manure runoff from factory farms, a key contributor to declining water quality. That rollback may set up a conflict between Minnesota and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Energy

Like the other omnibus bills, the Energy and Commerce bill was a compromise on many fronts, but there were several bright spots. The Legislature passed welcome investments in solar energy that would bring panels to schools, universities, and landfills. It will also support energy efficiency innovation – a key part of reducing our climate emissions. Combined with other provisions in the bill as well as the ECO Act passed earlier this year, this budget will support quality jobs in clean energy across the state. We need to move much farther, much faster on energy, but each victory is an opportunity to open the door wider – if we keep working to persuade state leaders to do so.

Transportation

The Transportation bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support, features several strong wins for our community. It will support new rapid transit lines in the Twin Cities Metro, new bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and a second daily Amtrak train from Minneapolis to Chicago. 

The bill wasn’t all wins, however, as it did not support the goal of reducing vehicle miles traveled, and included funding for highway expansions. It also failed to include Metro Transit fare enforcement reform, which would have made riding transit more equitable for communities of color. In order to cut emissions from transportation – our most climate-polluting sector – we need to reduce the amount that Minnesotans drive by providing fast and convenient alternatives, not continuing to heavily subsidize driving.

What comes next

Governor Walz pledged this week that he would relinquish his pandemic-related emergency powers on August 1st, and while legislative drama often appears unexpectedly, little more action is expected this year.

But much work remains undone. Minnesota has many emissions cuts to make and little time to make them in order to protect our communities, our environment, and our climate. The federal government’s possible action on clean infrastructure may help, but every state and city needs to do its part. We need to build on the achievements we won this session, build on the momentum for change, and win truly bold comprehensive climate action in our state.

Treaty People Gathering draws thousands to stand against Line 3

Posted by

Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last weekend, northern Minnesota was the site where the Treaty People Gathering, an activist mobilization against the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline, began. More than two thousand people from around the country assembled in the forests near Park Rapids to protest the pipeline, share knowledge and solidarity, and in some cases physically blockade construction.

The Gathering was spearheaded by native women from multiple organizations that have fought this tar sands oil pipeline that is a violation of tribal sovereignty, a danger to indigenous resources like wild rice that are guaranteed by treaties, and a threat to the planet. MEP staff members Steve Morse and Sara Wolff along with dozens of coalition members stood with people from around the state and across the country to call on our leaders to stop this pipeline.

Many who stood up at the Treaty People Gathering were met with arrests, riot gear, and a federal Homeland Security helicopter hovering close to the ground above protesters, resulting in harmful flying sand and debris. More than 200 people were arrested by the combined law enforcement task force defending Enbridge’s interests. And there are many who continue to stand – as of this writing, there are multiple camps along the planned route for the pipeline where people are continuing to put themselves in its path.

Why now

The fight against Line 3 has been a long one, and will continue as long as it remains a threat. The Canadian tar sands oil carried by Line 3 would generate greenhouse gas emissions greater than Minnesota’s entire economy combined – a disaster for a planet that needs desperately to retire old fossil fuel infrastructure, not build new pipelines.

Enbridge recently restarted construction on Line 3 this month after the spring thaw, and it will soon reach the Mississippi, where water protectors are camped to resist them. It’s a critical stage for this pipeline, which would carry some of the dirtiest oil on earth. But while some activists are focused on blocking construction, the other side of the fight is with the government authorities that are allowing this pipeline to happen.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals will announce a decision on Monday morning regarding appeals concerning the Certificate of Need, Route Permit and Environmental Impact Statement.  A challenge to the water quality permit granted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will be heard by the Court later this month. A challenge in federal court is underway as well.

The very nature of the legal fights against Line 3 underscore the flaws in the process itself. State authorities – the Pollution Control Agency, the Public Utilities Commission, and the Department of Natural Resources – have plowed ahead with granting certificates and permits as if there is no off-ramp for the project, no amount of harm that is too great for the State of Minnesota to bear. Despite the fact that the people and resources of Minnesota should be their priority, state agencies have acted as if Enbridge is their client, as if the pipeline is inevitable, as if they have no option but to grant the permits.

While many of our laws were built to protect the interests of fossil fuel companies, Minnesota also has laws that should’ve stopped this project in its tracks. These laws were ignored. (See this fact-sheet showing how the Pollution Control Agency ignored state law in order to approve the water quality permit.)

But decision-makers hands are not tied. 

Governor Walz could recognize that the Pollution Control Agency did not follow the law and direct this state agency to settle the legal challenge to this permit (upcoming later this month) by revoking it. 

President Biden could revoke the Army Corps of Engineers permit granted by the Trump Administration because it failed to perform an environmental impact statement that considered the violation of treaty rights, risks from oil spills, or the pipeline’s impacts on climate.  

We call on Governor Walz and President Biden to honor treaties, follow the law and act for our collective future over fossil fuel industry interests. It is not too late. “The time is always right to do what is right.” 

Last month the IEA report made clear that holding climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius requires there be no new investment in fossil fuel infrastructure starting now. 

This week TC Energy, the backer of the Keystone XL pipeline, announced it was killing its pursuit of the project that President Biden thwarted when he revoked its permits on his first day as President. TC Energy could have waited for another change in administration before giving up — this project has been in the works for ten years. But it decided to pull the plug. 

Enbridge has systems, dollars, and political influence on its side (the company was the single largest spender on lobbying in Minnesota only a couple of years ago.) But those — in Minnesota and around the country — who stand against it have people power. We believe that the leaders of the Treaty People Gathering are right: Line 3 is a violation of the treaties, a danger to us all, and it will not be allowed to stand.

Read More:
Minnesota Reformer: “From near and far: Meet the ‘water protectors’ protesting Enbridge’s Line 3”
More about the Gathering and how to help: https://treatypeoplegathering.com/