By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership – (@mattjdoll)
This week, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) commenced a new stage in the consideration process for the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline.. Roughly one year after the PUC had initially allowed the pipeline to move forward, the Minnesota Court of Appeals sent the project’s environmental impact statement (EIS) back for significant new work because the EIS did not adequately address the pipeline’s risks to the watershed of Lake Superior. On Tuesday, the PUC directed the Minnesota Department of Commerce to prepare a revised EIS.
In a separate development, on September 27, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) denied Line 3’s key water permit, saying that it failed to address the pipeline’s spill risk and impacts to our state’s natural resources. This is a wise move by the agency, but it’s only a temporary setback to Enbridge, which plans to make adjustments and re-apply for the permit.
We know the costs of Line 3 are too high
Oil pipelines leak. The Enbridge network alone has seen more than a dozen major spills in the United States and Canada. And the oil to be transported by Line 3 from the Canadian tar sands is some of the dirtiest on earth, and is incredibly difficult to clean up once it contaminates a body of water. Given the sheer distance and number of waters that the pipeline would cross during its decades of operation, oil spills into our waterways are almost inevitable.
The pipelines’ proponents have argued – and the PUC previously seemed to have accepted – that this new pipeline is necessary to replace the old Line 3 because the current line is a major spill risk and that transporting the oil by rail is inherently risky. These are false dichotomies. There is no scenario in which transporting tar sands oil across Minnesota is a safe or sustainable idea, not only because of the accident risk, but because of the inherent climate catastrophe it represents. If the current line 3 is a major risk, our state leaders should act to shut it down now to protect the public welfare.
Even if Line 3 were never to spill throughout its entire operational existence (projected to be 30 years), its very operation would be a climate threat with global implications. It’s estimated that the oil shipped through Line 3 would, when burned, emit the same volume of greenhouse emissions as 50 coal-fired power plants.
The number of operational coal-fired power plants in Minnesota today: 4.
Even with the positive news on our transportation emissions with the Walz Administration’s plan for Clean Cars rules, Minnesota cannot truthfully say that we’re leading the way on climate action if we allow this pipeline to proceed. We know the first thing we should do as we find ourselves in the midst of a crisis is to stop making it worse.
The context has changed
The PUC approved the pipeline in July of 2018. But that was:
· two months before The International Panel on Climate Change report made a critical announcement: The world must decrease GHG emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and then proceed to eliminate them entirely by 2050 – in order to have a reasonable chance to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the catastrophic consequences associated with another .5 degree temperature rise.
· four months before the Fourth National Climate Assessment report was released. This report, compiled by 13 federal agencies, finds that climate change is already negatively impacting land, water, human health and welfare across the U.S.
· more than a year before millions of people took to the streets on September 20 for the Global Climate Strike. Among them were thousands of Minnesotans across the state. One week later, about 1,000 people gathered in Duluth at the Gichi-gami Gathering to Stop Line 3, which celebrated the efforts by tribal communities, environmental groups, and dedicated volunteers to stop this pipeline.
In the activist’s view of oil transportation, they say that shipping oil by truck is like a date, and shipping by train is like going steady. Building a pipeline is like getting married: it’s a long term commitment. These events sent a clear message: Minnesotans have an environmental, financial and moral obligation not to marry ourselves to this tar sands oil pipeline.
What happens next
Honor the Earth, an indigenous-led advocacy organization and MEP member, estimates that the PUC will likely make its new decision on Line 3 in February. We can’t say for sure how the five commissioners will vote this time, but they should certainly take notice of how the situation has changed. Minnesotans are showing their commitment to bold climate action like never before.
We must keep up and amplify the drumbeat to stop Line 3. As the process moves forward, we ask that all concerned Minnesotans – and our neighbors from other states – make your voices heard.