The costs of hosting Enbridge pipelines pile up in Minnesota

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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.

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