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Oil-pipeline opponents look past Minnesota regulators

Winona LaDuke speaks out on June 28 in St. Paul, Minn., against Enbridge Energy's proposed Line 3 pipeline. Opponents of the pipeline are now turning their attention to fighting it on other fronts as a Minnesota regulatory panel prepares to take one of its final steps to allow the project to proceed. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP, File)

Winona LaDuke speaks out on June 28 in St. Paul, Minn., against Enbridge Energy’s proposed Line 3 pipeline. Opponents of the pipeline are now turning their attention to fighting it on other fronts as a Minnesota regulatory panel prepares to take one of its final steps to allow the project to proceed. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP, File)

By STEVE KARNOWSKI
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Opponents of Enbridge Energy’s proposed replacement of its Line 3 crude-oil pipeline may turn their attention to fighting the project on other fronts as a Minnesota regulatory panel prepares to take one of its final steps to allow it to proceed.

The Public Utilities Commission was scheduled on Thursday to discuss petitions that environmental and tribal groups are using to call on the panel to reconsider its decision from June approving a route permit allowing the line to go across northern Minnesota. Those opponents acknowledge that they have little hope of stopping the pipeline, especially since the commission earlier this month quickly and unanimously rejected their petitions to reconsider the project’s certificate of need.

That vote led to a walkout and a march to the office of Gov.-elect Tim Walz, a Democrat. Since both proponents and opponents of the pipeline have been urging their supporters to attend the PUC’s meeting on Thursday. Minnesotans for Line 3, a business-labor coalition, expects that a large contingent of blue-hatted Line 3 supporters will arrive early, said Mike Zipko, a spokesman for the group.

Opponents of the project concede that persuading their supporters to show up and wait in line in the cold for an uncertain chance at a seat is getting harder.

“We don’t expect them to reconsider, but we do intend to keep them accountable for their decision,” Mary Breen of the climate-change group MN350 said in an email to fellow opponents on Wednesday. “I’ve been to so many of these meetings. If you have too, you know how exhausting it is to be silenced by this system. It’s hard to keep showing up. Let’s show the PUC and Enbridge that rather than getting tired, we’re just getting warmed up.”

Enbridge wants to replace its existing Line 3 — which crosses northern Minnesota and a corner of North Dakota on its way from the oil fields of Alberta to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior — because it was built in the 1960s and is increasingly subject to cracking and corrosion. The Calgary, Alberta-based company persuaded the commission that the current pipeline poses threats both to safety and the environment.

Environmental and tribal groups say the project will aggravate climate change because the new line will carry Canadian tar-sands oil, which generates more climate-warming carbon dioxide when it’s processed than does regular oil. They also object to it crossing the pristine Mississippi River headwaters region, where American Indians harvest wild rice and claim treaty rights. They say the oil should stay in the ground.

Now the opponents are shifting their attention to the Minnesota Court of Appeals and preparing for demonstrations along the route as construction preparations get underway. In her email, Breen wrote that “most of the exciting work is outside the PUC at this point.”

The American Indian activist Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth, has threatened to stage mass protests similar to those used against another pipeline project, the Dakota Access, which drew thousands of people to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota in 2016 and 2017 and resulted in 761 arrests over a six-month span. Three Line 3 opponents were arrested late last month for blocking access to a pipe-storage yard along the route near Carlton. LaDuke was one of more than 20 pipeline protesters blocking an intersection in Bemidji in August.

LaDuke has applied for a gubernatorial appointment to the seat on the PUC being vacated by Chair Nancy Lange, whose term will end on Jan. 7. The environmental lawyer Leili Fatehi, who represents the Sierra Club against Line 3, has applied for the same post.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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