Amid a wave of direct actions that have at times stalled work on Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Tuesday denied a request to shut down construction as legal battles continue, disappointing Indigenous and climate activists who have been fighting against the tar sands project.
“Now more than ever, it’s up the Biden administration to cancel this project once and for all.”
—Margaret Levin, Sierra Club
A few weeks after construction began in December, the Red Lake and White Earth Bands of Ojibwe requested the stay. As MPR News reported at the time, “The bands, along with several nonprofit groups and the Minnesota Department of Commerce, have filed lawsuits challenging the project in both federal and state court.”
The pipeline’s opponents and their attorneys expressed frustration with the court’s decision but also vowed to keep fighting.
Richard Smith, president of Friends of the Headwaters—which filed a separate petition requesting the court stop construction—said that “we are disappointed that the court is allowing Enbridge to continue their construction assault on Minnesota’s natural environment, but we will continue our vigorous legal fight against the Line 3 pipeline.”
Enbridge welcomed the ruling, saying in a statement that “this is an essential maintenance and safety project that enhances environmental protections.” The Canadian company is attempting to replace a corroding oil pipeline with a larger one that runs from Alberta, through North Dakota and Minnesota, to Wisconsin.
Construction on the new pipeline has sometimes ground to a halt thanks to water protectors’ direct actions, which have included attaching themselves to equipment and materials. Before the court decision on Tuesday, over 50 activists—including two who locked themselves to an excavator—shut down a worksite near Cloquet, Minnesota.
Winona LaDuke, executive director and co-founder of Honor the Earth, said Wednesday that “the climate and fossil-fuel directives coming quickly from the new president—plus the rapidly increasing investment in and growth of renewable energy—make it clear the era of carbon-loaded oil pipelines is coming to a close.”
“Given the Biden administration’s recent executive order to halt the Keystone pipeline—which is really a twin of the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline—we are deeply disappointed in today’s decision not to support an overturn of the stay request from the Red Lake and White Earth tribes and Friends of the Headwaters to halt the rapid and dangerous construction of Line 3 during the Covid-19 pandemic,” she added.
Climate activists and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)—who met with pipeline opponents over the weekend—are calling on President Joe Biden to intervene.
In a Wednesday letter (pdf) asking Biden to block this project like he did the Keystone XL pipeline, Omar argued that “at its core, the debate about Line 3 is about one specific issue: climate change. Under even the best-case scenarios for climate change, we cannot afford to build more fossil fuel infrastructure. That is especially true for projects like Line 3, which are designed for the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive fossil fuel there is, tar sands crude oil.”
The congresswoman added:
Climate change is not just a risk, but a risk multiplier—all of the other known and unknown impacts of Line 3 will be greatly exacerbated by climate change. Wetlands can’t heal if the climate changes precipitation and temperatures. Indigenous treaty rights are meaningless if the areas are too polluted or unstable to hunt or fish or gather wild rice. Yet these massive and permanent impacts to climate were not addressed in the environmental review of this project nor were the impacts on the Anishinaabe treaty rights to harvest wild rice.
Climate change does not stop at the border of a reservation or a state or a country. The decision that U.S. entities make on Line 3 is a decision made for the entire world, and for all coming generations of humanity. I urge you to make the one decision supported by the scientific consensus on climate change: Stop Line 3.
Her letter was applauded by the Minnesota chapter of 350.org, which declared that “this is leadership that centers people, not profits” and thanked Omar “for standing with Native Nations, millions of Minnesotans, and future generations.”
“Line 3 is in court because multiple Native nations, grassroots groups, and the Minnesota Department of Commerce have argued its approval violated state law,” said Andy Pearson, Midwest tar sands coordinator at MN350, on Wednesday. “These groups deserve their day to be heard.”
“It’s time for President Biden to stop Line 3 like he stopped Keystone XL,” Pearson added. “Any further delay in stopping construction means irreversible harm to more treaty territory and more pieces of pipe in the ground that are fundamentally incompatible with the Paris climate accord.”
Margaret Levin of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter concurred, noting that “Indigenous leaders, organizers, landowners, and allies have stood on the frontlines for years to fight this pipeline, which would disrupt Minnesota communities, pollute our water, and harm our climate.”
Calling the latest court development “bitterly disappointing,” Levin said that “now more than ever, it’s up the Biden administration to cancel this project once and for all.”