Minnesota Must Say “No” to Enbridge’s Line 3 Pipeline

John Marty, Minnesota State Senator

Line 3 is a new pipeline proposal that, if approved, would carry oil from the Alberta tar sands through Minnesota. Enbridge Inc., the Canadian energy transportation company behind the proposal, is responsible for the biggest onshore oil spill in U.S. history,

Min­neso­ta has tak­en sig­nif­i­cant steps to devel­op its renew­able ener­gy resources. Begin­ning more than 20 years ago, the state has pro­mot­ed ener­gy effi­cien­cy, wind, and solar pow­er, to reduce green­house gas emis­sions while cre­at­ing jobs and clean­ing the envi­ron­ment. The state is com­mit­ted, by law, to sharp reduc­tions in green­house gas emissions.

The pro­posed Enbridge pipeline project would be a big step in the oppo­site direc­tion. It is a lit­mus test of whether Min­neso­ta is seri­ous about cli­mate change. Before explain­ing why, it is impor­tant to be clear on the urgency of the issue. A recent report pub­lished by the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences said that there is a 1‑in-20 chance that human-caused cli­mate change will have an impact that is beyond cat­a­stroph­ic” by the end of the cen­tu­ry, threat­en­ing the very sur­vival of our descendants.

Ignor­ing the risk of cli­mate change caused by human green­house gas emis­sions is gam­bling with the lives of young Min­nesotans and all future generations.

In that con­text, the Min­neso­ta Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion (PUC) will make a for­mal deci­sion on whether to allow Enbridge to con­struct its pro­posed multi­bil­lion-dol­lar Line 3 Replace­ment Pipeline project. The pipeline, which would be used to trans­port heavy crude oil extract­ed from tar sands in Cana­da, would trav­el across lake coun­try in North­ern Minnesota.

The Depart­ment of Commerce’s analy­sis of the pro­pos­al con­clud­ed that the pipeline is not need­ed for our ener­gy needs and stat­ed that Min­neso­ta would be bet­ter off if Enbridge pro­posed to cease oper­a­tions of the exist­ing Line 3, with­out any new pipeline being built.” 

Cer­tain­ly, the econ­o­my will con­tin­ue to use fos­sil fuels as we tran­si­tion to a clean ener­gy future. How­ev­er, this pipeline project will make our cli­mate-alter­ing green­house gas emis­sions even worse than they already are, work­ing against the green­house gas reduc­tion goals in law. It facil­i­tates the extrac­tion of addi­tion­al tar sands oil — the dirt­i­est of fuels, with a green­house gas impact as much as 37 per­cent high­er than con­ven­tion­al oil. We need to min­i­mize green­house gas emis­sions as we phase out the use of fos­sil fuels over the next few decades, not encour­age the use of the most harm­ful of those fuels.

With­out this pipeline, the eco­nom­ics of tar sands extrac­tion — already cost­ly — sim­ply don’t make sense, and the oil and gas com­pa­nies will leave the tar sands in the ground. Expand­ing rail capac­i­ty for trans­port­ing tar sands is too expen­sive and can­not be sustained.

Many of the peo­ple most affect­ed by the pro­posed pipeline are native peo­ple, whose fam­i­lies have lived here for hun­dreds of years or longer. For them, the impact of the pipeline mat­ters not only while it is under con­struc­tion and while it is trans­port­ing tar sands, but also 100 years from now, decades after it is no longer in use. The envi­ron­men­tal review stat­ed that dis­pro­por­tion­ate and adverse impacts would occur to Amer­i­can Indi­an pop­u­la­tions” regard­less of the route chosen.

To add insult to injury, the Enbridge pro­pos­al would aban­don the old pipeline after drain­ing the oil and tak­ing oth­er steps to reduce harm. Landown­ers who were forced to host the exist­ing pipeline deserve the chance to deter­mine what hap­pens to their prop­er­ty. Rather than respect­ing the inter­ests of local landown­ers, Enbridge wants to decide this ques­tion based sole­ly on its cor­po­rate interests.

Leav­ing an aging pipeline in place is like buy­ing a new car and leav­ing the old, rust­ing car in the back­yard, slow­ly drip­ping rem­nants of tox­ic flu­ids into the ground. Flu­ids do con­tin­ue to leak out even if the tanks have been drained. In this case the anal­o­gy is even worse. It is like leav­ing your rust­ing car in some­body else’s back­yard, with­out their con­sent, to pol­lute their soil and water.

In addi­tion to the dis­pro­por­tion­ate impact on native peo­ple and those who own land crossed by the pipeline, the chil­dren, grand­chil­dren, and future gen­er­a­tions of all Min­nesotans will be harmed by the cli­mate impacts. Reg­u­la­to­ry deci­sions like this one before the PUC are often a bal­anc­ing act. Much of the polit­i­cal pres­sure in sup­port of the project comes from the need for jobs like those that would con­struct the mas­sive pipeline. How­ev­er, the deci­sion in this case is not a close call. 

Although those jobs do not jus­ti­fy build­ing a pipeline that fails to meet the legal cri­te­ria for grant­i­ng approval, we must take seri­ous­ly the need to cre­ate jobs for the build­ing trades. In that regard, remov­ing the exist­ing pipeline would cre­ate a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the jobs that would have been cre­at­ed if the pro­posed pipeline was built.

To restate the urgency of the cli­mate issue, the new report pub­lished by the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences esti­mat­ed a 1‑in-20 chance that glob­al tem­per­a­tures could rise by five degrees Cel­sius by the end of the cen­tu­ry—far worse than the two degree rise that the Paris Cli­mate Accords com­mit­ted to pre­vent­ing. Worse even than the cat­a­stroph­ic impacts that the report said a three degree rise would trig­ger. The report described a five degree increase as beyond cat­a­stroph­ic” because it threat­ens the very exis­tence of humanity.

One of the sci­en­tists involved said, To put [it] in per­spec­tive, how many of us would choose to buck­le our grand­chil­dren to an air­plane seat if we knew there was as much as a 1‑in-20 chance of the plane crashing?”

With that sober­ing image in mind, the Enbridge pipeline deci­sion is tru­ly a lit­mus test of whether Min­neso­ta is seri­ous about address­ing cli­mate change.

For the sake of the chil­dren of today and tomor­row, we dare not fail this test.

(“Tar Sands Pipeline: Lit­mus Test of Whether Min­neso­ta is Seri­ous about Cli­mate Change” was first pub­lished on the Apple Pie Alliance web­site and is repost­ed on Rur­al Amer­i­ca In These Times with per­mis­sion from the author.)

John Mar­ty is a Min­neso­ta State Sen­a­tor. He has authored numer­ous con­sumer pro­tec­tion, gov­ern­ment ethics and envi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives. He is an out­spo­ken leader in the fight to remove spe­cial inter­est mon­ey from the polit­i­cal process.
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