On his first day in office, president Biden signed an executive order to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. But now, many people in the Great Lakes region are asking the Administration to halt a different pipeline project they believe poses an even greater threat to indigenous communities and local waterways. And as NewsHour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano reports, experts and climate advocates say it’s time to stop oil pipeline projects in the U.S. once and for all.
On his first day in office, President Biden signed executive orders aimed at aggressively tackling the climate crisis, including stopping construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. But now, many people in the Great Lakes region are asking the administration to halt a different pipeline project they believe poses an even greater threat.
Thirty years ago this week, the Line 3 pipeline in northern Minnesota ruptured, spilling 1.7 million gallons of crude oil onto a frozen river near Grand Rapids, Minnesota. If the river had not been frozen, the oil could have seeped into the Mississippi River and contaminated drinking water for millions downstream.
Protests have been ongoing to stop construction rerouting a section of the Line 3 pipeline which could impact Indigenous communities and local waterways. And as NewsHour Weekend's Ivette Feliciano reports, some say it is time to stop oil pipeline projects in the U.S. once and for all.
Facing freezing temperatures in January, environmental and Indigenous activists in Minnesota protested an oil-pipeline project underway in the Great Lakes region by Canadian-owned energy company, Enbridge.
We've locked ourselves down inside this pipe which will become Line 3 pipeline. To stop them from welding this pipe together.
They say the Line 3 pipeline is bad for the environment, and local communities, and that projects like these set the U.S. back in the transition away from burning fossil fuels.
Enbridge aims to replace an existing Line 3 pipeline that is corroding and operating at a reduced capacity. Mike Fernandez, is Senior Vice President at Enbridge.
It already exists. So it's unlike the recent decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, which was a new pipeline.
But, the replacement does involve building a new, 337-mile pipe along a different route in Minnesota, that will nearly double the amount of oil the current pipeline carries.
It crosses more than 200 water bodies, and 800 wetlands, to carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wisconsin.
Fernandez says the pipeline replacement provides many benefits, including more than 4,000 jobs during construction, and additional tax revenues to northern Minnesota in a slow economy.
It's everything from transportation fuel to heating homes. It can be refined into plastics that are used for computers and television sets. And so right now, the economy very much depends on this. And I get people's concerns. The reality is that pipelines are the most efficient and safest way, and most environmentally sound way, to transport this needed fuel.
The project, first proposed in 2014, got its final permit approval last November from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Replacement work began in December.
Since then, dozens of people have been arrested for protesting the project. That includes Winona LaDuke of Indigenous climate justice organization Honor the Earth, and member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota.
You have women like myself. I'm a grandmother, you know, and we're standing out there. I have six charges against me for this pipeline. And there's a bunch of us that are facing charges for trying to be a water protector.
She and others have been part of the seven-year fight opposing the project throughout the state and federal review processes.
Winona La Duke:
It is the largest tar sands pipeline in the world. This pipeline is the equivalent to 50 new coal-fired power plants. So, you know, if you're trying to save the planet, this is not the way to do it.
A report by climate justice organization 350.org, and a physicist at Macalester College in Minnesota, found the Line 3 expansion would increase the state's existing annual greenhouse gas emissions.
We don't need any more oil pipelines. You know, it's the end of the party, who wants to be holding the last fossil fuels pipeline?
In its latest legal effort to stop Line 3, last December, Honor the Earth joined The White Earth and Red Lake Nations, and the Sierra Club, in filing a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The lawsuit argues that the Army Corps didn't adequately assess the potential for exacerbating climate change when it approved the permit, nor its impacts on Indigenous treaty land rights.
Tara Houska is Couchiching First Nation Anishinaabe and the founder of the Indigenous-led Giniw Collective.
Treaties are in the U.S. Constitution as the supreme law of the land. It's time to honor the treaties in a different way.
She says the replacement pipeline opens up new areas of the state to potential spills that could pollute fragile waterways and other ecosystems in treaty territories.
We've got a president that maybe respects treaty rights and is calling himself a climate president. We need the action, not just the words.
Beginning in 1979, the old Line 3 pipeline caused several oil spills along its route in the Great Lakes region, including the largest inland oil spill in American history in 1991, and a fireball explosion in 2007 that killed two people. As a result, in 2008, Enbridge cut Line 3's operating capacity by nearly half.
Mike Fernandez says Enbridge understands the environmental concerns, which is exactly why a replacement project is underway.
It's been six years of study and scientific review and technical review, and as a consequence, there are actually 320 route modifications that have been made. This is viewed as essentially a modernization project, to upgrade what's there so that it is safer. So it does have less impact on the environment.
Fernandez believes protestors don't speak for everyone, as Enbridge employs native people who are working on the pipeline expansion, and at least one Ojibwe tribe has agreed not to oppose the project.
It's like people are just against pipelines because they fear anything that's fossil fuel. But this is something we are already dependent upon. When I see protesters, and we've had four administrative law reviews, and we've gone through all of this work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It's a little bit like the election where we've gone through the entire process and people still want to not accept that legal process.
But protestors in Minnesota say they don't want modifications to the old infrastructure, they want oil pipelines like these to become obsolete.
Under Enbridge's permit with Minnesota's Public Utilities Commission, Enbridge must reimburse public safety agencies for expenses at work sites, especially costs for policing protests. Last November, a Minnesotan Sheriff's office requested tens of thousands in reimbursements for additional riot gear and weapons. Winona LaDuke says that funding should be a red flag for anyone who supports the project.
I am not a criminal, I'm a water protector. At a certain point, someone has to ask what is right about a Canadian multinational financing the police force in your state to put in a pipeline with so much conflict?
LaDuke says a trial date of March 23rd has been set for the federal lawsuit that seeks to halt the project, which is on track to be completed by the end of the year. Yet opponents hope President Biden will intervene before then. More than 200,000 people have signed a petition asking him to stop Line 3. In the meantime, La Duke says protests will continue.
Imagine if there are fifty or two hundred people facing cops and it's ten below zero.You know what's coming spring? And more people come, more water protectors will come. I guarantee you that.
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Ivette Feliciano shoots, produces and reports on camera for PBS NewsHour Weekend. Before starting with NewsHour in 2013, she worked as a one-person-band correspondent for the News 12 Networks, where she won a New York Press Club Award for her coverage of Super Storm Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast in 2012. Prior to that, Ivette was the Associate Producer of Latin American news for Worldfocus, a nationally televised, daily international news show seen on Public Television. While at Worldfocus, Ivette served as the show’s Field Producer and Reporter for Latin America, covering special reports on the Mexican drug war as well as a 5-part series out of Bolivia, which included an interview with President Evo Morales. In 2010, she co-produced a documentary series on New York’s baseball history that aired on Channel Thirteen. Ivette holds a Master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in broadcast journalism.
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