Minnesota's Line 3 pipeline gets final permit

The proposed pipeline project is the first big test for the Biden campaign on climate, and a potential environmental justice disaster.

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Before President-elect Joe Biden even takes office, his transition team is being faced with his first emergency on climate and environmental justice: The proposed Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota now has a green light.

On Monday, Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency approved a construction stormwater permit, the final permit that Enbridge – a Canadian fossil fuel company – needs to begin construction. The proposed pipeline will have a capacity to transport 800,000 barrels of crude oil from the Canadian tar sands to a terminal in Wisconsin – roughly equal to that of the Keystone XL.

The fight to stop the construction of Line 3 is now at the forefront of US climate justice, given that it would pass through protected Ojibwe land, violating Ojibwe treaty rights. Going forward with construction signals a very clear practical choice favoring status quo and the extractive, exploitative fossil fuel industry over a just transition centered on workers and justice.

Line 3’s permit approval sets up a potentially lengthy opposition fight. The fight to stop the Keystone XL’s proposed route through the Dakotas has now drug on for over a decade. Water protectors from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe were violently removed during their opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline, which was completed in 2017. The Line 3 opposition hasn’t received as much national attention, but its potential impact on climate and injustice against Indigenous people is just as great.

After campaigning hard on climate justice, Biden has yet to publicly address Line 3 directly. Meanwhile, there are already camps of Ojibwe water defenders and their allies preparing to stop the pipeline, including chaining themselves to construction equipment. Last month, members of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Environmental Justice task force resigned in protest. What happens will give us a good idea about what side of this fight Biden falls on.


This is Biden’s chance to take a firm stance on a Just Transition

Line 3 is complex and controversial. This issue entangles whole rural communities and families. Ultimately, it is a choice about the kind of future we are building for ourselves.

For Shanai Matteson, an artist and collaborative director of the Water Bar & Public Studio, this fight is personal.

I recently moved back to Palisade - which is where I grew-up, and where my family has been living for 6 generations. It's also where Enbridge plans to cross the Mississippi River. I'm living right next door to that proposed river crossing, about a mile from where my great-grandparents had their farm. Even though most of the men in my family work in trades (lumber, mining, now possibly the Line 3 project) my grandmother, who is 90 and has lived here her whole life, has been active over the years in stopping projects that are harmful to the community. Here's an audio story I recorded where she talks about this, including the day Enbridge came to survey. Palisade is a very small, rural community - and we've never really reckoned with our past. There is still a lot of racism and violence directed at Native people here. Now that Line 3 has its permits, Palisade will likely be the focal point for protests - and I am an EJ activist organizing here - and also seeing this issue through the lenses of members of my family - including my Grandma, my cousins who have been called up to work on the pipeline, and other family members (mostly aunts and female cousins) who are healthcare workers, and are dealing with the COVID surge. My aunt Jeanine is head of infectious disease prevention at the local hospital, and her daughters are nurses married to construction workers. So she has been wrestling with this issue of the impact the pipeline could have on healthcare, but also the need for "good jobs." Another aunt of mine is an Ojibwe educator for Mille Lacs Band, and feels strongly about these issues.  

Line 3 is a layer of injustice on top of the pre-existing conditions of life in rural America amid a public health and a climate emergency. It’s important for everyone’s voice to be heard, and for everyone’s futures to be considered.


Op-ed: Minnesota State Agencies Green Light Line 3 Construction: Compound Climate Crisis with COVID-19 in a Self-Defeating Move

By Laalitha Surapaneni

The following is a short op-ed by Laalitha Surapaneni. Dr.Surapaneni is an Assistant Professor in the Department of General Internal Medicine at the University of Minnesota. She holds a public health degree from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Dr.Surapaneni’s area of interest is climate change and its impact on human health. At the Academic Health Center, she is the climate champion for the medical school. She works with an interprofessional group of champions to educate students about climate and health. She is the faculty advisor for Health Students for a Healthy Climate.

She was invited to provide expert testimony at the Minnesota State Capitol on the public health impacts of climate change. As a science communicator, she gives regular talks to the general public about how climate impacts health.

When people ask me, “What got you interested in climate change?”, I often think back to a newspaper cartoon I saw as a child that’s stuck with me since. The cartoon was of a man chopping the branch that he was sitting on. A concept so simple even a child could grasp: our wellbeing as humans is linked to our planet’s wellbeing. A concept apparently lost on the Minnesota state agencies who have willfully granted permits to Line 3, an oil pipeline about the same capacity of the Keystone XL; during a climate crisis. 

As health professionals, we already see climate change impacting the health of our patients. 

Over the past two years, my colleagues and I have testified about the health risks of this pipeline numerous times to various state agencies and our Governor, Tim Walz. Now with all state permits issued, and construction set to begin this winter, I cannot help but reflect on how the risks of construction of this pipeline could have been just as easily summed up by that one cartoon.

Let’s take the impact on wetlands, for instance: Minnesota’s natural climate resiliency infrastructure. The route for the new pipeline cuts through wetlands in Northern Minnesota. Healthy wetlands sequester carbon, absorb flood waters, and protect water quality, earning them the nickname “Earth’s kidneys”. And, what are the impacts of climate change in Minnesota? You guessed it: flooding and degraded water quality. Minnesota is already experiencing record precipitation and flooding from climate change. We have harmful algal blooms in our lakes from excess nutrient runoff and warming lakes. Even as state agencies have programs attempting to restore wetland health in central and Southern Minnesota, they have issued permits to a pipeline that destroys wetland integrity in Northern Minnesota, and has an annual carbon footprint of about 50 coal plants to boot.

Construction also poses a more imminent threat. As COVID-19 rages through our state, elected officials were pleading with Minnesotans this past week to stay home and limit holiday family gatherings. Our Governor issued stricter lockdown measures this month to curb the spread. Meanwhile, having received all state permits, Enbridge Inc. is preparing to start construction on Line 3 this winter with plans to mobilize over 4000 workers across rural Minnesota into temporary housing. Unmitigated COVID-19 transmission would impact pipeline workers, rural and tribal communities, and overwhelm healthcare capacity. Rural communities are sounding the alarm and over 180 healthcare workers across the state, most of whom have never been involved in the pipeline fight, have submitted petitions to Governor Walz and our state’s health department on the issue. No stay on construction has yet been issued on the grounds of limiting COVID-19 spread. 

This is not a story unique to Minnesota. Industry, regulatory agencies, and elected officials across the world have knowingly led us into the current climate crisis. Still, it has been nothing short of heartbreaking to see how independent science has been ignored throughout the process. It is still unfathomable to me how after listening to testimony from climate scientists, doctors, nurses, physicists, geologists, and water scientists about the risks of this pipeline, the public utilities commission issued a certificate of “need” this year. For oil. In a climate crisis. In a year that has seen oil barrel prices in the negative.  Or how the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued water permits after refusing to consider impacts of climate change or downstream effects of oil spills on water quality. For a pipeline that violates treaty rights. During the Native American Heritage month. Prompting 12 of the 17 Environmental Justice Committee members to resign. 

So, how do we take the next step when we feel hopeless? Why spend more time advocating when it seems politics will continue to derail climate action? Why am I going to ask you, yes you, to raise your voice with me? Because despair is a privilege we cannot afford. Because we, the people are the only ones who have the power to change these flawed processes. Because we have no option but to continue the fight for a livable future.


If you want to get involved directly in the fight to stop Line 3, donate directly to the water protectors at the front lines on Anishinaabe land.

This is a fight just as important as Keystone XL and Dakota Access. Tell the Biden Administration that stopping Line 3 needs to be a top priority, and that we won’t take no for an answer.