Line 3 pipeline: Progressive Dems implore Biden to shut it down

Progressive Democrats are urging president Biden to halt work on the controversial Line 3 pipeline. The group says they support the closure because of the environmental concerns and opposition from indigenous leaders. Meanwhile, Republican representatives have supported the pipeline in part, because of its economic benefits. Minnesota Public Radio reporter Kirsti Marohn joins.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Minnesota Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar is among a group of progressive representatives urging President Biden to halt work on the Line 3 pipeline this weekend.

    In a Minneapolis press conference yesterday, the group said opposition from indigenous groups and environmental risks were cause to shut down production.

    Republican congress member Pete Stauber gathered with other Minnesota republican lawmakers and union members in the U.S. Capitol yesterday in support of the pipeline, citing its economic benefits.

    The democratic representatives are visiting the pipeline site today and meeting with indigenous leaders.

    For more on the Line 3 pipeline, I spoke with Minnesota Public Radio reporter Kirsti Marohn.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Kirsti, for our audience members that might not be paying attention, refresh us at what Line 3 is.

  • Kirsti Marohn:

    Sure, so this project is a replacement to the existing Line 3 pipeline, which is a crude oil pipeline that runs from the oil sands region of Alberta, Canada, cuts down through northern Minnesota and ends at Enbridge's terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. So that pipeline was built back in the 1960s. It's corroding and aging and needs extensive maintenance. So it's been operating at about half capacity recently. So Enbridge wants is replacing that pipeline with what they say will be a safer pipeline. It's newer construction, thicker steel, but it also follows a slightly different route through northern Minnesota. And that's where some of the conflict has been coming in.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So what is on that route that's controversial?

  • Kirsti Marohn:

    Well, this is a very water-rich region of northern Minnesota. There's a lot of rivers and lakes and wetlands. It's the headwaters of the Mississippi River. The pipeline actually will cross the Mississippi twice. So there's a lot of concern about whether the pipeline is putting sort of a new region of the state, the waters of that region at risk of a potential spill or leak. There's also several indigenous tribes in this region of Minnesota that have treaty rights to hunt and fish and gather wild rice on these lands. And some of those tribes oppose the project because they feel like it's a violation of those treaty rights.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Now, there have been a series of protests and there are more planned today. What are the protesters attempting to accomplish? Because this has been through, what, a multi-year approval process through different agencies?

  • Kirsti Marohn:

    Yes, the process took about six years to go through the multiple different agencies and approvals that it needed. The protesters are really hoping to stop this project before it's completed. That's not looking very likely. It's more than 90 percent complete at this point. Enbridge is expecting to have it in operation by the fourth quarter of this year, but they're really trying to raise the national awareness of this project. We've seen national politicians here in Minnesota, celebrities, and they're really trying to, I think, put pressure on the Biden administration to intervene in this project. And they would like the administration to get involved in a challenge of the federal water permit for this project, which was issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That project was necessary because the pipeline goes through wetlands and waterways. That's not looking particularly likely at this point. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has defended that permit. And we haven't seen any indication from the Biden administration yet that they do plan to intervene and stop this project.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What are the implications beyond just Minnesota? I mean, pipelines obviously carry oil in this case across countries, but where does this all go?

  • Kirsti Marohn:

    What we've seen nationally, this pushback in recent years against oil, natural gas and oil pipelines, there's been a lot of concern about the impact on climate change because these are fossil fuel infrastructure projects. A lot of the opponents of Line 3 and these other projects would like to see more of a transition to cleaner energy. They're saying that these projects are sort of locking us into fossil fuel, the use of fossil fuels into the future. But, you know, companies like Enbridge say that as long as there is demand for oil, these pipelines are needed to transport oil safely. They say this is a safer method than other forms of transportation, like rail or truck, which also have a carbon footprint.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Is there any indication from the protesters who have been out there that even after this finishes, if this finishes, that the protests would stop?

  • Kirsti Marohn:

    No, I think we are likely to see the protests and the legal challenges continue. We've seen that in recent days. There's also a few other legal challenges out there still remaining. There's one really interesting one that the White Earth Nation of Ojibway has filed in tribal court. It's actually filed on behalf of Manoomin or Wild Rice. It's part of this kind of expanding area of law known as the Rights of nature. And they're saying that this project is threatening the rights of wild rice to exist and thrive so that one is going to play out in tribal court. But it's being watched across the country by proponents of this area of law. And I think that's going to be an interesting case to watch. And I think we're likely to see other challenges in the future. These protesters and opponents of this project would like to see a result, something like what happened with Keystone XL or Dakota Access, where even though the project seemed like it was on track, it was eventually halted.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right, Kirsti Marohn, reporter for MPR News. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • Kirsti Marohn:

    Thanks for having me.

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