Since 2007, Honor the Earth has been working with the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of Sisseton, SD to pressure Otter Tail Power to withdraw their commitment to a proposed 580 megawatt coal-fired power plant called Big Stone II. We are excited to announce that on September 11th, Otter Tail made the right choice for the Earth and all our relations and cancelled their investment in the project!
Today, the peoples of Sisseton-Wahpeton and a host of environmental allies are giving thanks for and celebrating the Big Stone II victory. Mryna Thompson of the Office of Environmental Protection at Sisseton was elated by the news OTP had pulled out of the project, stating that, “It seemed we had exhausted all efforts in our opposition to BSII. We fought hard, prayed hard and worked hard to prevent the pollution upon people, the land, the water and the air and to protect all that is Sacred. In the end, OTP made the right decision. We give thanks to the Creator for hearing our prayers, and we give thanks to all the environmentalists for never giving up.”
Not only were Big Stone II’s coal emissions set to poison the air and water of the nearby Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. Big Stone II would have required the mining and transport of coal from Northern Cheyenne territory in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, doubling the adverse impact on Native peoples. Honor has worked with the Northern Cheyenne community for more than a decade to stop fossil fuel expansion. We were approached by the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate’s Office of Environmental Protection in 2007 to help bring their voice into the critical BSII decision-making process and convince Otter Tail to invest in alternatives like wind instead of a so-called “clean coal” plant.
We went straight to Otter Tail’s home town of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, to introduce the public to Native peoples disproportionately impacted by Otter Tail’s choice to invest in coal. Through a targeted campaign of public forums, press conferences and op-eds in local papers, and with the help of environmental groups like the Sierra Club and committed local community members in the region, we were able to raise the energy justice issues at the heart of the BSII debate.
In an official statement, Otter Tail said that factors in their decision to withdraw their investment included the broad economic downturn and uncertainty about federal legislation to regulate carbon emissions. Combined, these factors made the potential coal plant impractical and untenable for all parties involved, both for shareholders and for its customers. While the fate of Big Stone is not sealed, most media outlets are seeing this as a final blow to a troubled process.
The demise of dirty energy projects like Big Stone II represents concrete victories in the effort and work to transition to clean energy in Native America. The Sisseton people have abundant wind resources blowing across their lands in eastern South Dakota, and the tribe is now working to harness those resources with a plan for a 100mW tribal wind farm. The development of reservation-based wind power and the defeat of a nearby coal plant is a clear picture of energy justice.
We were honored to be allied in this campaign with Cesia Kearns and others of the Sierra Club who fought tirelessly against coal, Patrick Moore of Clean Up The River Environment who works diligently to keep our waters clean and Sue Wika at the Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls, who took many risks to ensure our voices were heard. Chi Miigwech for your good work and solidarity!