What Was That Alberta Clipper Meeting in Bemidji Really All About?

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Photo: MPR News

On Tuesday, March 7, hundreds braved blizzard conditions to attend a US State Department meeting in Bemidji, MN, about the Alberta Clipper pipeline.  Honor the Earth was part of a coalition that organized a “Solutions Summit” event beforehand, and a march to the meeting, where despite the State’s efforts to criminalize us and neutralize our power with an “open house” format, we celebrated our resistance with traditional drum, song, jingle dress dancing, and ceremonial foods.  Here’s why the meeting was important:

What was the meeting about?  

This was the US State Department’s only public meeting on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the expansion of the Alberta Clipper (Line 67) crude oil pipeline, which transports tar sands across the lake country of Northern Minnesota, including the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac Reservations.  Enbridge wants to expand the Alberta Clipper from 500,000 to 900,000 barrels per day, but because the pipeline crosses an international border, they need a new presidential permit for its entry into the US.  This SEIS is supposed to evaluate the environmental impact of that increase in volume, and inform the US State Department decision to either grant or deny the presidential permit, based on whether or not the project is “in the national interest.”  

But wasn’t the Alberta Clipper already expanded?

Yes, this whole State Department process is absurd.  This is environmental review for something that has already been going on for 2 years.  Enbridge built the Alberta Clipper in 2010 and expanded it in 2015, through an illegal “double-cross” or “switcheroo” scheme.  Here’s how it works:  Enbridge built all the new pumping stations needed to double the volume of oil in the Alberta Clipper, and then right next to it, they built a small piece of the proposed new and not yet permitted Line 3 pipeline across the US-Canada border.  For two years now, they’ve used that piece of Line 3 as a blatant loophole to bypass the need for a new presidential permit for the Clipper.  They simply transfer the larger volumes of Alberta Clipper oil into the small piece of Line 3, cross the border, and then transfer it back into the Clipper.  The State Department has allowed Enbridge to do this, despite a 2015 lawsuit against the State Department by the White Earth Nation, Honor the Earth, and our allies.  

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So why are they doing this now?  What does this mean for Line 3?

President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon, are getting their paperwork in order, and trying to formally approve the expansion of the Clipper with as little public involvement as possible.  Enbridge needs this new presidential permit for the Clipper in order to free up the small piece of the new Line 3.  They need to wash their hands of the “switcheroo” scheme to clear the way for the proposed “Line 3 Replacement Project,” which would triple the capacity of the existing Line 3 and fill it with tar sands oil.  It is not a “replacement” in any sense of the word.   They want a new pipeline, with larger diameter pipe, in a brand new Northern Minnesota corridor, designed to carry three times the volume, of a categorically different type of oil.  

Does Enbridge need any other permits?

For the Alberta Clipper expansion, this is the last major one.  The State of Minnesota approved the expansion in 2013.  The federal government has shirked its responsibility via other agencies.  The US Forest Service is avoiding supplemental review for the additional capacity on the Alberta Clipper, in violation of the 2009 special use permit that allows it to pass through the Chippewa National Forest.  Neither the US Army Corps and Bureau of Indian Affairs are doing anything, despite the impact on tribal lands - not only the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac Reservations, but also the 1855, 1854, and 1842 Treaty Areas.   

For Line 3, federal law requires a new border crossing permit, because the changes proposed for the new Line 3 are explicitly prohibited in Enbridge’s 1991 Presidential Permit.  But the State Department decided not to bother.  So far, the US Army Corps is not doing a Federal EIS on Line 3.  The State of Minnesota has not yet issued permits and is currently writing its EIS, with a draft expected in April, followed by a series of public meetings to gather feedback.   

What does the SEIS for the Alberta Clipper expansion say?

There are parts of the SEIS that are relatively good, but at the end of the day, it is not an accurate assessment of the impact of doubling the amount of tar sands oil flowing through our communities.  One problem is that the scope of the SEIS is too narrow - it only looks at the border crossing instead of the whole line, it does not correctly identify connected projects, and it does not acknowledge the effect on climate-change causing greenhouse gas emissions.  Also, the SEIS does not include an honest economic analysis, and it dismisses environmental justice concerns and impacts on tribal resources, rating both as “negligible.”  The public can submit written comments on this SEIS up until March 27.  

Did the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe participate in the SEIS process?

The Leech Lake Band was included as a “cooperating agency” in the SEIS but has been extremely frustrated with the process and the federal government’s lack of honest environmental review.  At the Bemidji meeting on Tuesday, Levi Brown, Director of Environmental Protection for the Leech Lake Band, submitted written comments which concluded, “l am requesting that the U.S. State Department remove all information or maps that are reflective of the Leech Lake Indian Reservation from its SEIS...and to ensure there is not further confusion I will be requesting that the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe tribal council officially approve my request to be removed as a cooperating agency from the Line 67 SEIS.”  The Leech Lake Band had asked repeatedly for a public meeting to be held on the reservation so that tribal members could participate easily, but that request was denied because of “security concerns.”  Brown stated that “the question of security is nothing more than a cheap shot at the peaceful people of Leech Lake area.”

What’s next?

We expect Rex Tillerson’s State Department to approve the expansion of the Alberta Clipper.  But the turnout and energy at the Bemidji meeting was a clear sign that Standing Rock has sparked a historic resurgence of Indigenous Nations, and that the Anishinaabeg and our allies are bringing that energy to the Great Lakes to fortify our resistance and stop the proposed Line 3 pipeline in its tracks.  Please join us

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