By Julia Evelyn
Volunteer with MN350’s Pipeline Resistance Team

It’s been a big year for the Pipeline Resistance Team. We’ve worked through lawsuits, marches, meetings, and actions to keep Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline out of Minnesota. Similar to the Keystone XL pipeline, the proposed Line 3 would take hundreds of thousands of gallons of tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, and transport it through the US for export. The Line 3 resistance movement can be complicated, so if you’re trying to keep track of the recent Line 3 news and updates, here’s your explainer.

First off, the process for getting a pipeline approved is complex and requires a variety of permits and other documents. These are a few of the important ones:

  • the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which would discuss the risks of the pipeline to Minnesota’s environment, including its lands, waters, and air
  • the Certificate of Need, which would confirm a need for the project in our state
  • the Route Permit, which would confirm the route of the pipeline through 330 miles of northern Minnesota
  • water crossing permits, also known as the 401 certification, which would allow the pipeline to cross over 192 bodies of pristine Minnesota waters, including the Mississippi River twice

Background on Line 3

In June 2018, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted unanimously to approve the Certificate of Need and the Route Permit for Line 3. The PUC is a quasi-judicial body of five commissioners appointed directly by the governor; they are not elected officials. Their role is to regulate utilities in Minnesota such as telephone services, electricity, and natural gas. Their decision to approve the Line 3 permits went directly against the recommendations of numerous expert witnesses, the MN Department of Commerce, and Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly.

Tara Houska of Giniw Collective leads chants for a 200-person march against the proposed Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline, in Clearbrook, Minn., October 14, 2019. (Photo by Amelia Diehl, In These Times.)

In response, Indigenous and environmental groups such as the Mille Lacs, Red Lake, and White Earth Bands of Ojibwe, Friends of the Headwaters, Honor the Earth, the Youth Climate Intervenors, and the Sierra Club appealed this decision, as did the MN Department of Commerce. It’s a lot to keep track of, but basically a lot of people—native people, environmental activists, young folks, older folks, and even part of the Minnesota state government—thought that permitting Line 3 was a terrible idea.

Now we’re caught up to this year.

Rulings and protests in 2019

In June 2019, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that Enbridge’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was inadequate because it didn’t consider risks of an oil spill in the Lake Superior watershed.

This ruling was a partial win, but it addressed only one of the nine counts on which many Indigenous and environmental groups were suing Enbridge. (The other eight counts, related to climate change impacts and Indigenous treaty rights, were rejected. Many of the Indigenous and environmental groups appealed the Court of Appeals decision to the MN Supreme Court, hoping to get a more favorable ruling on these important indigenous issues. In September, this further appeal was denied when the MN Supreme Court refused to hear the case.) Still, the Court of Appeals’ ruling stands, and the EIS is invalid. The Court of Appeals also dismissed the Certificate of Need and the Route Permit until Enbridge obtains a valid EIS.

There’s also the question of the water crossing permits. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) denied Enbridge’s water crossing permits due to an invalid EIS (spill risks to a critical water body have not been considered). However, Enbridge has now reapplied, and the permit will be considered over the next few months.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 28, MN350, the Pipeline Resistance Team, and 1,200 people from all corners of Minnesota, as well as many neighboring states, came together in Duluth for the Gichi-gami Gathering to Stop Line 3. We brought a shared energy of prioritizing the health and safety of people and the environment above the profits of a multinational fossil fuel company. And we felt that energy during the round dance to honor missing and murdered indigenous women and relatives.

The Gichi-gami Gathering was just the start. On October 14, Indigenous People’s Day, more than 200 water protectors, activists, and individuals from around the state gathered in Clearbrook, MN, for a peaceful protest. Organized by the Giniw collective, the March on Enbridge to Protect the Sacred was a powerful way to center Indigenous voices and vow, “Line 3 will not be built!”

These kinds of protests are important for a number of reasons: They educate people, both attendees and passersby, about the dangers and injustices associated with Line 3. They connect people to the movement and bring together folks from all corners of the state. They tell both Enbridge and lawmakers that Minnesotans will stand together to stop more dirty tar sands oil from endangering our state’s inhabitants, land, water, and air.

Taking action for our future

But protests aren’t the only way to fight Line 3. In the coming months, showing up to policy meetings and working with lawmakers will be increasingly important. Our presence at the October 1 meeting of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (remember: these are the five people who originally approved Line 3’s Certificate of Need and Route Permit) clearly demonstrated to policymakers that the majority of Minnesotans do not approve of Line 3.

At the meeting, the PUC voted for a revised EIS, which was completed in early December, that focuses on analyzing the spill risk to the Lake Superior watershed. The initial public comment period is open until January 6, 2020. Make a public comment now on the MPUC’s website, using the docket numbers 14-916 and/or 15-137. It’s an important time to make your voice heard.

If taking steps toward resistance seems overwhelming, you’re not alone! But it’s important to remember that any action you take has an impact. Sending letters or submitting public comments from your own home has an impact. Showing up to meetings and events has an impact. Even simply educating yourself and talking about this issue with your friends and neighbors has an impact.

Our movement is the culmination of years of work, celebration, and support by regular volunteers like you and me. We take inspiration from other anti-pipeline campaigns like the Keystone XL resistance and the NoDAPL fight at Standing Rock, but no involvement in those is necessary to join us! The way we’ll stop this pipeline is by working together toward a cleaner, more equitable energy future.

Julia is a senior at Macalester College and an enthusiastic volunteer with MN350’s Pipeline Resistance Team. Though originally from New York, she loves living in the Twin Cities and enjoying all that Minnesota has to offer. In her spare time, she likes to read, spend time outdoors, and eat good food with good friends.