This video follows the broken process of Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in northern Minnesota. The issue and permitting of Line 3 has been a “hot potato” between Enbridge and different federal and state regulatory agencies. A flowchart and sources for all the facts cited in the video can be found below our statement of solidarity.
Despite massive public opposition to the project, Enbridge started construction in late 2020. To support the fight against Line 3, please share and follow the organizations through this link tree: https://linktr.ee/stopline3, sign up to be involved and support the movement in many ways (near and far!): http://bit.ly/2NWQdxs
We are organized around the principle that science is a set of tools that can and should be used to advance human and environmental justice, rather than corporate profiteering resulting in ecocide and genocide. Acting on this principle has brought us into the Line 3 struggle and the fight for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives, where powerful state institutions and actors use the veneer of science to shield themselves from accountability, while failing to take action consistent with what we know about the science of climate, land, and water. Governor Walz justifies his lack of action by saying he’ll listen to “science and the data” — and the Science for the People-Twin Cities Chapter is committed to demonstrating that the science and data clearly show we must reject Line 3. We recognize that the coordination of scientific research to support the movement against Line 3 does not add new information about the devastating impacts of this pipeline, but instead supports and upholds the knowledge held by the original caretakers and stewards of this land, the Dakota and Anishinaabe peoples. Our focus is to articulate the failures of the regulatory process, use our expertise to support legal challenges to permits, coordinate with and support community organizations, and participate in direct action and protest.
Black arrow = pushing off responsibility to another entity. Red arrow = putting constraints on another entity.
Governor Walz is at the center of this game of hot potato, but he rarely took any responsibility for this disastrous pipeline, making weak statements, and going back on his promises. He left it to the State Agencies to make strong statements on it, yet he is ultimately responsible for the actions of all Executive Branch State Agencies. He didn’t, and still doesn’t listen to his Lieutenant Governor, Peggy Flanagan, who has consistently opposed Line 3. He voted for KXL as a Congressman.
Governor Walz could have appointed a new Commissioner to follow in Steve Kelley’s footsteps, or instructed the Acting Commissioner to maintain the DOC’s lawsuit regarding Line 3. Instead he continued the trend of undermining the DOC’s decision making.
The Trump Administration designated pipeline workers as essential during the pandemic. Governor Walz via the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) chose to go along with this instead of maintaining the previous policy for Minnesota..
The Trump Administration relaxed environmental regulations and reporting during the pandemic. The MPCA chose to follow this lead, instead of diverging from them.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) cited that the main reason for granting the Line 3 Certificate of Need was the fact that the existing Line 3 is degraded, and vulnerable to polluting the environment. This reason is clearly within the realm of concern of PHMSA, the MPCA, perhaps the DNR, and something that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen in the first place.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce (DOC), is a party to many PUC cases. Under the strong leadership of Commissioner Steve Kelley, they filed a lawsuit against the PUC’s approval of Line 3, due to lack of proof of demand for the pipeline and its oil. After his departure, the DOC declined to take a position on the request to the PUC for stay of construction on Line 3.
The US EPA implemented a rule that limited States (MPCA) from denying 401 permits for reasons other than water quality and imposed a 1 year deadline for decision. Note: The Executive Order on Climate Change signed by President Biden in the first days of his administration removed much of the fossil fuel-favoring policies of the previous administration. This revealed that the MPCA was too passive in following the Trump administration’s lead in recent months.
The Consent Decree issued by the Federal Government to Enbridge required them to seek a replacement pipeline for their Line 3. While Enbridge has not stopped the PUC from believing they must order replacement of their Line 3 pipeline for safety reasons, that decision is not actually within their jurisdiction (as that is the sole authority of the pipeline company as regulated by PHMSA). The Consent Decree orders that Enbridge run their pipeline at the reduced pressure until they can secure (through permitting with all proper reviews and analyses) a replacement. Else, they were required beginning in 2017 to perform much more stringent inspections in order to continue running current Line 3 (which reduces their carrying capacity even further as inspections require downtime).
I am sitting at my desk, in my old childhood bedroom, at my parents’ house in Germany. Last school year I was an international student at the University of Minnesota, and during the spring semester, I left the US earlier than planned because my parents were getting very worried when COVID-19 forced countries and flights to shut down. The COVID-19 pandemic here in my home country has, so far, been fairly calm compared to other countries, including the U.S., where I have watched it unfold. Sometimes a few days pass in which I almost forget about what is going on in the world. But when I watch the news or talk to my friends in the US, it hits me all over again: “We are living in a pandemic.” Timewise, my mind still thinks it is March, and I think back to when everything started to unravel. Within weeks, our lives had changed faster and more drastically than anyone I know would have expected.
During spring break, University of Minnesota students, myself included, received the announcement that in-person instruction was cancelled for the rest of the semester.
That day was very emotional for me because it did not only mean my semester had ended, it also meant the end of my experience abroad. I tried to enjoy my last few weeks in the US, so I accepted an invitation from a friend to live with their family in Madison, WI.
On one weekend at the beginning of April, two of my friends and I went on a socially distant bike ride around one of the lakes. The long Midwestern winter let us take joy in the small buds that started to sprout through the floor of dried leaves and the slightly warmer temperatures. I remember how this bike ride connected all of my classes and experiences over the past 8 months in a way. We passed wetlands and lakes, and I wondered about their hydrological processes and ecosystems, which I had studied in my wetlands and hydrology classes. On our way back, we were exhausted. We passed a Jimmy John’s, and I stopped and looked at their window sign. In red, neon letters it stated: “Free smells.” I remembered biking past the same sign, only on the West Bank of the UMN campus a few months prior and talking about it in my urban environment class. We talked a lot about environmental justice in US-American cities, and I often wondered if anything is actually free?”
Figure 1 Jimmy John’s “Free Smells” in Madison, WI
In that moment I realized that almost all of the classes I took at the University of Minnesota were connected through the concept of externalities.
An externality is defined as a side effect or consequence of an industrial or commercial activity that affects other parties without being reflected in the cost of the goods or services provided.
In this case, Jimmy John’s “free smells” are portrayed as a positive externality. But when thinking of industrial and commercial activities, I can only think of negative effects that are not reflected in the costs of goods. I think of the polluted city air of Minneapolis and rivers, like the Mississippi, full of chemicals. I think of how we discussed the Love Canal and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in my environmental justice class.
In my renewable energy class, Janiece Watts, a policy associate, passionately communicated to us that no one should feel excluded from environmental and climate justice work; for movements to have power to enact change in a window of political opportunity, everyone has a role. So, what is my role as a student? What externalities are surrounding me immediately?
This news startled me and still does. The University of Minnesota continues to invest in fossil fuels?
During my time at the UMN, I was involved in a group called Voices for Environmental Justice (VEJ) and I got to work with Cânté Sütá Francis Bettelyoun in the Native American Medicine Garden on the Saint Paul campus. Most of the people I interacted with were very conscious of the destruction our current mode of production causes and the negative externalities built into the entire flawed system known as capitalism.
I obviously had been living in my own bubble.
The University of Minnesota indirectly invests in the fossil fuel industry with index funds. The University is trying to make money, so that it “can reduce the cost of tuition and use the money to fund operations of the University of Minnesota,” according to University Regent Michael Hsu. Hsu added, “[b]ut as long as there’s a good return in fossil fuels, then we have to make a decision”, and I guess that decision is pro-fossil fuels. There are student organizations, like the UMN Climate Strike, that are actively protesting the continued investment. But the movement for divestment should be supported by any student organization that stands for equality, social and environmental justice, and the students’ greater good. Regent Darrin Rosha stated that they will always listen to what the students have to say, but that there are other factors that need to be considered.
The externalities, though, are simply not considered.
Figure 2 A Couple Class Readings
Divesting from fossil fuels is not just about the environment and climate change; it is about the entire system of injustices that connects to it. As Rob Nixon described in his book Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor,
“In the end, it was the other pipes that got him, the Shell and Chevron pipes that poured poison into the land, streams, and bodies of Saro-Wiwa’s Ogoni people […].”
Adding to this, Naomi Klein writes in her book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, that
“Oil and gas companies remain some of the most profitable corporations in history […]. These companies are rich, quite simply, because they have dumped the cost of cleaning up their mess onto regular people around the world. It is this situation that, most fundamentally, needs to change”.
The investment in fossil fuels supports the system of oppression, exploitation, and dumping environmental burdens on the most vulnerable.
I have read some studies about the cost of divestment; some of them state that it is not feasible, others say that the costs of divestment are exaggerated. I admit that I do not understand a lot about stocks and investments and that these studies used a technical language which I only could understand to a certain limit. But I also do not understand how the University ignores the fact that investment in fossil fuels reinforces a socially and environmentally unjust system, especially when the studies regarding this issue were conducted by UMN researchers. The University’s own news page even gives an overview of the study and its meaning.
“On average, non-Hispanic whites […] experience approximately 17 percent less air pollution exposure than is caused by their consumption. Black and Hispanic populations, however, bear a “pollution burden.” On average, blacks are exposed to about 56 percent more […] For Hispanics, it is slightly higher — 63 percent.”
I do understand when the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency state in their 2019 published report, that fine particles in the air or ground-level-ozone were, in part, responsible for “2,000-4,000 deaths, 500 additional hospital stays, and 800 emergency room visits” in 2013. I do understand that healthcare costs would be reduced drastically if pollution was a smaller problem. I do understand that “green jobs” contribute to our financial health; according to Clean Jobs Midwest these jobs grew 2.5 times faster than overall employment in MN. Climate change and pollution — and strategies to address them — are not far away things that happen in other countries; they are happening right here on campus and in Minnesota communities.
Figure 3 The New Natural Gas Plant Helped UMN meet 2020 goals. What about 2030? 2050?
So I am left with many questions.
How much are students and the campus community affected by the environmental burdens produced by the companies UMN invests in to “help” students with tuition costs?
Why do I learn in all my classes about externalities and the costs that are not reflected in the price of a good, an investment, or an action, but no decision-makers try to change this reality, not even at the institution that teaches these concepts to us?
Fossil fuel divestment is closely connected to decolonization because fossil fuel extraction has been the central aim and enabler of imperialist and capitalist expansion since the industrial revolution. Similarly, the environmental harms of fossil fuel combustion are disproportionately borne by people who are already oppressed, exploited, and marginalized by the white supremacist and heteropatriarchal cultures used to justify and uphold these unsustainable power structures. Stopping the flow of fossil fuels is a start, but to replace these unjust structures we will need to rethink our relationships to land and each other.
I volunteered at the Native American Medicine Garden during the fall 2019 semester for the community-engaged learning component of one of my classes. Before I took this class and talked to Francis, I knew very little about the ongoing sufferings and struggles of Native American peoples in the US, which is sad because these discussions and news don’t make their way into my country’s school system. I am all the more relieved to finally be informed and have learned about these injustices. The University of Minnesota is sitting on stolen land.
Figure 4 The UMN Native American Medicine Garden
Sometimes at events there are land acknowledgments, and I thought that maybe the University would finally realize their role in decolonizing. However, in the middle of the pandemic and the protests regarding George Floyd’s murder, I received an email that Francis’s position is not being renewed by CFANS. This timing is important. In the days following George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer, the violence perpetrated against Black communities through white supremacy was visible and visceral. Within this moment of acute pain, rage, and grief, the University’s own long history of violence against Indigenous people, now focused on Francis, was another example of white supremacist and colonial systems in our everyday lives.
Within this context, I have to wonder: Are the words spoken in land acknowledgments just empty shells with no meaning?
In response to CFANS’s failure to renew Francis’s contract, a letter was written and an overwhelming number of over 500 students, teachers, and many more affiliates of the University and NAMG signed it. The letter states:
“the NAMG has been a critical space of unlearning and relearning for thousands of UMN students, faculty, and staff, and countless visitors who come to our campus from near and far. In addition, the NAMG has provided food, wisdom, and community wellness for all who have passed through the space. […] He has taught many of us how to live the land acknowledgment.”
Clearly, I was not alone. The few times I had the pleasure and honor to talk and learn from Francis had been an overwhelming experience. When I think of the future I want to build for myself, his lessons and words have had a big impact on my plans.
“Cânté Sütá […] teaches a mode of stewardship that critiques the historical and contemporary aggressions of settler-colonialism, while calling forth the radical care for all relations that could enable futures beyond settler-colonial violence.”
How can the University of Minnesota sit on stolen land, do land acknowledgements and try to grasp their role in decolonizing, but
“replay colonial patterns and remove a beloved and deeply respected member, teacher, and spiritual guide of the University and Indigenous communities from his position”?
How can the University of Minnesota still invest in the companies that build pipelines through the land of Native Americans, poison and destroy their livelihoods, and put the students of this institution in danger by disregarding all externalities to fossil fuel investment?
As much as it is not enough to not be racist but to be an anti-racist, it is important to not just speak the words of land acknowledgement. We have to live land acknowledgement and not only divest from fossil fuels but invest in people, ideas, and plans that nourish this campus community’s well-being, just like Francis did and hopefully is able to do in the future through the NAMG.
It is the duty of the University to live up to the values it speaks and teaches to its student community.
As Naomi Klein states, “We must cease making large, long-term capital investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure that ‘locks in’ dangerous emission levels for many decades […] Step one for getting out of a hole: Stop digging.”
So, let’s stop digging holes for the future students, staff, and creatures who will wander this campus for years to come.
Nixon, R. (2011). Slow Violence And The Environmentalism Of The Poor. (p.103). Harvard University Press.
Tessum, C.W., Apte,J.S., Goodkind, A. L., Muller, N. Z., Mullins, K. A., Paolella, D.A., Polasky, S., Springer, N.P., Thakrar, S.K., Marshall, J.D., & Hill, J.D. (2019). Inequity in consumption of goods and services adds to racial–ethnic disparities in air pollution exposure. National Academy of Sciences, 116(13), 6001-6006.https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1818859116
Unprecedented drops in oil prices have provided even more proof that Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline is unnecessary, and would be detrimental to Minnesota’s economy, environment, and public health.
Gov. Walz has taken some pragmatic leadership steps to protect Minnesota’s public health against the coronavirus. He recently stated that social distancing practices will likely disrupt business for up to 18 months. These disruptions have resulted in dramatically reduced demand for gasoline in Minnesota. Gasoline is very inelastic, meaning that even very low prices won’t induce much increased demand, especially since it’s clear that these social distancing practices are the new normal.
The pandemic caused U.S. gasoline demand to plummet by nearly 50%, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Furthermore, the unmitigated Saudi-Russian production war continues to flood the market with cheap crude oil. The combined supply and demand shock resulted in very low, and sometimes negative oil prices for the first time in U.S. history. This means that extractors had to pay up to $37.63 per barrel to consumers for taking the oil off their hands. These extremely low prices cast doubt on the need for Line 3.
Oil from Western Canada’s tar sands also continued to experience very low and negative prices. Canadian oil storage capacity is even more limited than in the U.S., so massive supply cuts will be continuing across the continent. This was already occurring in the tar sands, as plans for new extraction projects have been cancelled, and existing large extraction sites as young as two years old are being considered for closure. Additionally, Canadian oil transport companies like Enbridge are also financially hurting; their stock recently dropped 44% in a 5-week span.
Enbridge wants to transport Western Canadian tar sands oil through the proposed Line 3 pipeline to midwestern refineries. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there will not be enough long-term tar sands oil production, nor will there be enough American gasoline demand to warrant a new pipeline being built to export oil to the U.S. Enbridge’s mainline system is currently running significantly below capacity according to S&P, and Rystad predicts that production cuts will continue to exceed Line 3’s planned capacity. Furthermore, Minnesota’s refineries have been forced to cut production by ~50%, so they have no need to import extra oil from Canada.
These are some of the main reasons why the MN Department of Commerce ruled that Enbridge did not demonstrate sufficient need for Line 3. However, the Walz administration has quietly taken steps to clear obstacles for Enbridge to move forward with the pipeline. Walz has appointed new Public Utility Commissioners who have publicly supported Line 3. Furthermore, the MN Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) decided to indefinitely halt the MN Clean Cars rulemaking process due to the coronavirus, yet only delayed the Line 3 permitting process by one week.
The MPCA draft permit states that water quality impacts from Line 3 are “necessary to accommodate important economic or social changes.” This is an insufficient and short-sighted rationale. Recent economic changes have rendered Line 3 completely unnecessary. Let’s also discuss these important “social changes.” Line 3 would cause: more greenhouse gas emissions than our entire state currently produces; significant damage to Northern Minnesota’s pristine waterways; and unhealthy particulate air pollution that compounds the inequitable impacts of the coronavirus on those with vulnerable health and respiratory conditions. The heaviest burden will fall on Indigenous communities and people of color who already bear the brunt of pollution and pandemics.
Concerningly, the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) made a special exemption to allow oil pipeline companies to force their employees to continue working while most of Minnesota is under a stay at home order. This dangerous policy allows travelling ‘man camps’ to work along the pipeline route. These crews traditionally increase crime in local communities, but now there is increased concern about them spreading the coronavirus among themselves, and to these communities.
The Walz Administration must show pragmatic leadership by denying all permits for Line 3, and restricting dangerous construction activities during this public health crisis to protect the future of our state, our country, and the planet.
We are in a moment where Minnesota’s government has an outsized influence on the fate of hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans. This crisis calls for special attention to the public health consequences of pollution. Coronavirus is especially harmful for people with compromised respiratory systems. The State Government should be doing everything in its capacity to protect the respiratory health of Minnesotans. Instead, Governor Walz and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) are using the pandemic as political cover to weaken environmental regulation and to allow increased pollution across Minnesota.
MPCA’s fulfillment of its stated mission “to protect and improve the environment and human health” is already in question. An ongoing case investigated by the Legislative Auditor, a Minnesota court and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alleges that MPCA suppressed serious concerns from EPA scientists about dangers the PolyMet mining project poses to waterways in Northeast Minnesota.
More recently, the Trump Administration’s EPA suspended enforcement of all environmental regulations due to the coronavirus. Commissioner Bishop’s MPCA appears to be following their lead by issuing a broad emergency ‘flexibility’ policy allowing Minnesota companies to increase pollution. If these companies cannot operate without emitting dangerous pollutants into Minnesota’s air and water, beyond legal limits set by science and fixed in State law, then they shouldn’t operate at all.
MPCA is currently reviewing the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline, proposed by the Canadian energy transport company Enbridge. Line 3 would cause: significant damage to Northern Minnesota’s pristine waterways; unhealthy particulate air pollution that compounds the inequitable respiratory impacts of the coronavirus; and more greenhouse gas emissions than our entire state currently produces. Enbridge is one of the companies that would profit from “flexibility” under the new EPA and MPCA policies. The heaviest environmental burden will fall on Indigenous communities and people of color who already bear the first and worst impacts of climate change and pollution. By loosening existing permit standards, MPCA is admitting that it doesn’t have capacity to enforce the permit commitments it’s already bound by law to enforce.
After cancelling all in-person opportunities for comment on Line 3, MPCA has given a paltry seven day extension to accept written comments. They have also failed to provide meaningful alternatives to public comment for communities that will be negatively impacted by the project. Environmental justice requires agencies like MPCA to take comment from Indigenous and low-income communities on those communities’ terms, and make sufficient time to hear from people that oppose the project. MPCA’s effort to silence these communities is a blatant failure to thoroughly vet the project and to meaningfully involve Minnesotans in the process.
MPCA’s draft permit states that water quality impacts from Line 3 are “necessary to accommodate important economic or social changes.” This is an insufficient, short-sighted, and essentially untrue framing of the issue. Furthermore, Governor Walz has said: “If Washington doesn’t lead on climate, Minnesota will.” Yet Walz and MPCA claim their hands are tied and they have no choice but to poison our air and water by rolling back environmental protections and rushing approval of a climate catastrophe during a public health crisis. Commissioner Bishop can and must deny Enbridge’s permits for Line 3 based on the pandemic, the agency’s resulting inability to take public comment, and in recognition that no waterway should be permanently polluted and left for future generations to clean up.
Additionally, Governor Walz has acted to advance the pipeline by appointing new Commissioners to the Public Utilities Commission who have shown public support for Line 3. Recently, the Department of Employment and Economic Development has made a special exemption to allow oil pipeline employees to continue working while most of Minnesota is under a stay at home order. Instead of giving the industry a green light, Enbridge’s pre-construction and logging should be halted immediately to protect workers and local communities from the coronavirus.
Governor Walz and Commissioner Bishop must show progressive leadership by denying all permits for Line 3, enforcing existing regulations to their fullest, and prohibiting any additional pollution in Minnesota to protect the future of our state, our country, and the planet.
Dr. Laalitha Surapaneni, MD, MPH is an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Minnesota.
Tim Schaefer, State Director of Environment Minnesota, is an advocate for protecting Minnesota’s air, water, and special places.