The fight to stop the Line 3: Big oil’s last stand in Minnesota?

Palisade, MN — Tribal nations, community and environmental groups in Minnesota have fought for six years to stop Canadian oil giant Enbridge Energy from building the massive Line 3 pipeline in Northern Minnesota, to take oil from Canada’s tar sands region to Superior, Wis.

The pipeline violates several treaties with the Ojibwe people that establish their right to hunt, fish, and gather along the proposed route.The pipeline would cross 200 bodies of water, including the Mississippi River twice.

If built, Line 3 would carry hundreds of thousands of barrels a day of tar sands crude oil — some of the dirtiest oil in the world — and would contribute the equivalent of 50 coal plants worth of carbon pollution to the atmosphere. Its carbon footprint would exceed the entire state of Minnesota’s and, like Keystone XL, would extend the economic viability of the ultra-polluting crude oil source in a way that one expert famously called “game over for the climate.”

Governor Walz authorizes construction despite legal challenges

The fight against Line 3 has gone on for seven years, but took a sharp new turn when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) issued water crossing permits on November 12, 2020 and the Army Corps of Engineers issued permits on November 23, 2020.

The project faces ongoing litigation over grave errors in the Public Utility Commissions Certificate of Need and other issues by Friends of the Headwaters, Sierra Club, and Honor the Earth, with the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, the Youth Climate Intervenors and the State of Minnesota’s own Department of Commerce.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce (DOC) had joined the opposition to Line 3 before the Public Utilities Commission under the Dayton administration after their analysis calculated the social cost of climate damage at $287 billion. The DOC then joined in the lawsuit when the PUC over-ruled the recommendations of its own Administrative Law Judge to approve the project. Governor Walz faced legal deadlines to refile the suit at the start of his term in 2019 and again in Augst 2020, and each time, after extensive public discussion and pressure from both sides, stayed the course keeping the Commerce Department in the lawsuit. Walz said in 2019 projects like Line 3 “don’t only need a building permit to forward, they also need a social permit.”

Reaction to the move to build the pipeline while it is still under litigation — a hearing on key cases is expected in April — was swift. The bulk of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA)’s Environmental Justice Advisory Group resigned in protest over the permitting decision, saying in a letter to MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop that “we cannot continue to legitimize and provide cover for the MPCA’s war on Black and brown people.” (Article.)

Pipeline opponents rallied at the Governor’s Mansion on November 14 following the MPCA’s decision to issue water crossing permits for Line 3. (Press: CBS;The MAC Weekly).

Red Lake Band of Chippewa and White Earth Band of Ojibwe and other organizations litigating against Line 3 filed a request for a stay of construction while their cases are being heard in court, but were gravely disappointed in the decision by Governor Tim Walz to note allow the Commerce Department to join the request for a stay. Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, publicly reaffirmed her opposition to the project.

Despite this opposition, the State issued the last permits on at the end of November and the Canadian corporation Enbridge, that had been positioning pipes and equipment for years of “pre-construction”, quickly began construction transporting thousands of out-state workers into Minnesota in the midst of an increasingly dire COVID crisis.

COVID concerns disregarded

On December 2nd, Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate held a socially distanced media event and rally in front of the governor’s residence in St. Paul.

Speakers at the event said more than 4,000 Enbridge workers living and working in close quarters has the potential to develop into a superspreader event. They said if average Minnesotans and small businesses were being asked to limit their movements and even curtail holiday celebrations and travel, “big oil” could also do its part in stopping the virus’ spread across northern Minnesota. The health professionals delivered a petition from statewide medical professionals and scientists in support of an appeal by Northern Minnesota residents and health providers, and met with the Department of Health. Later that day, Enbridge updated its COVID compliance plan in response to the critiques, though the on-paper commitments did not reassure the health providers. (Video; Press: Guardian ;Star Tribune).

Grassroots resistance grows

As legal cases continue to play out, long standing grassroots resistance to the pipeline entered a new phase with public actions in multiple locations and dozens of arrests of peaceful water protectors. Native American Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) organizations have led the movement with groups like the Giniw Collective, Honor the Earth, Rise Coalition and Gitchi Gumi Scouts leading public actions along the construction route along with organizations including MN350

Action and Northfield Against Line 3.

“Indigenous-led resistance to Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline threatens Big Oil’s last stand”, as one headline explained it.

The Giniw Collective social media page has lifted up some of the most bold and effective actions by water protectors blocking construction, including an 10-day tree sit and multiple actions where water protectors peacefully locked themselves to construction equipment.

New sites of resistance are growing along the Line 3 route.

Palisades Mississippi river crossing becomes site of resistance

The point where the Enbridge corporation is erecting a drill pad for the Line 3 pipeline’s second Mississippi crossing point has become a flashpoint of resistance where tree sitters held out for 8 eight days on one side of the road and a “Water Protector Welcome Center” with a daily fire and greeters sits on the other. (Video: Frontline Resistance to Line 3; Photos by Sarah Little Redfeather; Article)

On Dec. 4, water protector Dawn Goodwin went down to the bank of the upper Mississippi Rivers with a small group of Mississippi Band Anishinaabe women visiting a traditional teaching lodge, or waaginoogan. She sat in prayer next to a machine that was on a break from tearing down trees on the route and she and Honor the Earth Executive Director Winona LaDuke ultimately led the machine away. The next day LaDuke was ticketed for trespassing in the same location as were a group of five allied faith leaders visiting the site later. On December 10th the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported “Enbridge now faces a major roadblock after a ceremonial lodge was constructed along the pipeline route near the Mississippi River, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ordered work to stop at that specific site on Saturday.” [Video: Winona explaining the day of prayer.]

On Saturday December 12th water protectors blocked the road in front of the construction of the drill pad, parting to allow local traffic through while holding back lines of construction vehicles for hours. Five were cited by DNR and Sheriff officials. (Video: “The People are Rising like the Water”.)

Also on Saturday, December 12th, a group of key Anishinaabe women leaders called for people to join them at the Line 3 site at Palisades on the following Monday and in ongoing resistance at the Palisades site. (Video: Native leaders call for people to come North)

On Sunday December 13th, eight Minnesota legislators from Rochester, Duluth, Moorhead and the Twin Cities visited a construction area north of Palisade.. “If we want to have a livable planet for our future and the generations to come, we simply cannot build new fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Senator-elect Jen McEwen of Duluth. (Video: Legislators Visit Line 3 site; Photos: Legislator Visit Slide Show.)

On Monday December 14th, 22 water protectors were arrested voicing opposition to the Line 3 tar sands pipeline near the Mississippi River north of Palisade, Mn. as law enforcement and Enbridge crews removed the remaining tree sitter and built a barbed wire fence on the drill pad site. All but one of the 22 were released Tuesday afternoon from the Aitkin County Jail and one was released Wednesday. (Coverage: Red Lake News, Star Tribune ; Video by Giniw Collective.)

At the Palisades site joined a national call for the incoming Biden administration to act swiftly on climate by including stopping Line 3. (Articles: Biden Urged to Stand Against Line 3; Biden urged to sign climate emergency).

On December 17 Honor the Earth and Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light brought together dozens of faith leaders and supporters including the Episcopal Bishop of Mn. Craig Loya for a prayer and solidarity gathering at the site of construction near Palisade.

On December 20, nine legislators from across Minnesota visited the Palisades site, increasing the number of state legislators who have visited the site to 15 (Slideshow: MN350)

Statewide Organizing

Organizing against the Line 3 Tar Sands Pipeline has not been limited to the Palisades.

Giniw Collective has maintained a camp elsewhere along the route for years, tracking pre-construction, training activists and engaging in public actions.

“Engaging with these big companies to try to force them to transition away from fossil fuels is about our survival as people,” Giniw leader Tara Houska said in a recent article. “This project is one project among many, but there has to be a point where we say no more. There has to be a point when we say enough.”

In recent weeks repeated action by community-based water protectors in the Fond Du Lac areas has interrupted Line 3 construction. A key leader of community efforts there is Taysha Martineau co-founder of Gitchigumi Scouts whose community activities include searching for Missing Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives.

On Thursday December 10th a “Prayers for the Nibi” event led by the Rise Coalition featured a water ceremony and community-building along the route where construction is planned, but not started, near Clearwater, Minnesota. (Article.)

On December 16th Honor the Earth staged a festive community event outside the Enbridge Office in Park Rapids that LaDuke described as a “Salsa party” as an invitation for people from all walks of life to get involved. (Video: Meet Shanai Matteson of the Great River at the Mississippi).

On December 21, Secretary of the Red Lake Nation, Sam Strong issued a call for public support in stopping in Line 3 and supporting treaty rights, establishing a new camp on treaty land in the path of the pipeline. (Video: Sam Strong)

In Minneapolis, pipeline opponents have been gathering every day beginning December 13th on the Stone Arch Bridge. On December 20, Taysha Martineau of the Gitchigumi Scouts and hundreds of protestors marched at Lake Street-Marshall Avenue Bridge at the The River at Risk: Stop The Line 3 Pipeline action. (Photos: MN350).

Widespread advocacy

Numerous Minnesota and national groups have campaigned against the pipeline including Minnesota Environmental Partnership, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and the Sierra Club Northstar Chapter. A broad range of social justice advocates and community organizations have spoken out against the project.

On Wednesday, December 9 over 1,000 people joined a digital rallyto take action and support local leaders in the fight against Line 3. Many groups such as are asking the incoming Biden administration to halt the project.

On the Stop Line 3 National Day of Action, December 11, activists in more than 60 cities with Stop the Money Pipeline visited dozens of branches of banks, asset managers and insurers who are backing Enbridge’s Line 3 to deliver a letter from 40 Indigenous women leaders demanding they stop funding the tar sands pipeline that threatens the pristine waters of Minnesota and the land of the Anishinaabe.

What’s next

The Enbridge corporation says construction is happening along the entire route and expected to take six to nine months. Many community members along the route are fearful that thousands of construction workers pouring in from around the country might buckle stressed health care systems in the COVID epidemic and of the damage being done to precious waters and forests daily.

Pipeline opponents are hopeful about several upcoming legal appeals and the incoming Biden administration’s stated commitment to environmental justice and strong climate appointments including Gina McCarthy who signed a letter calling Line 3 “a clear danger to our climate, water, and land.”

The Walz administration faces the contradictory position of litigating against the pipeline while deploying state law enforcement to arrest water protectors. Attorney General Keith Ellison, who passionately opposed Line 3 as a Congressman and leading environmental justice advocate, represents the State Commerce Department in its lawsuit but has not taken a public position for or against completion of the project as Attorney General.

Political observers say Walz must weigh his loyalty to a pair of construction unions that helped him defeat the DFL endorsed Gubernatorial candidate in a 2018 Primary Election against the growing power of Minnesota’s Native American voters and the importance of climate change and racial justice to the Democratic base that elected several new anti-Line 3 candidates to the legislature in 2020. (Most of the labor movement has stayed neutral on Line 3 and many larger labor unions take part in coalitions with leading progressive political groups and faith leaders and others who oppose it.)

Victory in the campaign to stop Line 3 (along with Keystone XL and a proposed pipeline in Canada) could hasten the end of the economically shaky Canadian tar sands industry within the ten years that scientists say remain to control the worst-case scenarios for climate change. (Democracy Now coverage.)

Frontline leaders and climate activists have called on supporters to join in resisting Line 3. A leading opponent of the pipeline, Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth calls the battle over Line 3, “ground zero in the battle over climate change”. LaDuke said: “This is the last pipeline. This is the last battle, and that battle is in Minnesota …We expect thousands of people to join us.“

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Kevin Whelan is an organizers based Minneapolis. He consults with unions, campaigns and community groups working for racial and climate justice.