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Petition Cites Dramatic Oil Market Crash, Severe Pandemic Threats, Adequate Clean Water Act Protections, Other Issues. Friends, we are happy to announce to that Honor the Earth, with our allies filed a legal petition to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA) on April 10, 2020, calling for contested case hearings about the agency’s water quality permits for the pipeline.
LEGAL CHALLENGE TO MINNESOTA POLLUTION CONTROL AGENCY WATER QUALITY PERMITS FOR LINE 3 FILED BY SELECT MINNESOTA TRIBES AND MAINSTREAM ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS CALLS FOR CONTESTED CASE HEARINGS
TWIN CITIES – April 15, 2020 – Select Minnesota tribes and mainstream environmental organizations opposed to the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in northern Minnesota filed a legal petition to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) on April 10, 2020, calling for contested case hearings about the agency’s water quality permits for the pipeline.
In a strongly worded and very timely petition to PCA Commissioner Laura Bishop last week, the petition (download the attachment) citied the dramatic oil market crash and the severe threats from the global Covid-19 pandemic, concerns about adequate protections for both Minnesota’s natural resources under the Clean Water Act and indigenous wild rice, plus other issues.*
The petition from Friends of the Headwaters, Sierra Club, and Honor the Earth, with the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians came even as the PCA “acknowledged last week’s suspension of the ‘clean cars’ rulemaking process” -- Delaying the publication of the rule – because of the impacts of Covid-19 on the public process. But it has yet to do the same for an equivocal issue, the carbon-loading properties of Line 3. As the petition notes, “the pandemic is posing a significant barrier to public participation, and to the gathering of material information the MPCA needs to make final decisions.”
*Other issues cited in the petition include:
A) There is no need for a new pipeline in light of the current collapsed oil market – and evidence and testimony will demonstrate that there is certainly no economic need for this pipeline in the near future:
“The factual circumstances have changed since the MPCA released its Draft Certification and Antidegradation Determination….Demand for crude oil and
refined petroleum products has collapsed, and when that collapse is coupled with increased oil production from Russia and Saudi Arabia to secure market share, the lack of storage capacity, and the forthcoming significant production cuts from the Alberta tar sands region and the Bakken shale in North Dakota, the Project no longer serves any economic or social purpose that would justify potential degradation of Minnesota’s water resources.”
B) Quantitative and Qualitative Impacts to the more than 200 water bodies and 75 miles of wetlands. the pipeline will cross that are protected under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act:
- In dispute is the interpretation of section 401 of the Clean Water Act and the range of state laws that protect water quality. Petitioners argue that the MPCA review of the project is too narrow and the MPCA’s refusal to look at the full range of alternatives to the project is unlawful.
- The petition questions whether Enbridge and the MPCA undercounted the full acreage of wetlands that will be affected by the Project, where a more accurate count could show a much greater loss of biodiversity and wetland functionality.
C) The likelihood of a bitumen oil spill – of the dirtiest, hardest tar sands oil to clean up – is a serious environmental threat:
- PCA’s Draft Certification and Antidegradation Assessment fail to consider potential water quality impacts from the operation of the Project, including the likelihood of a spill.
- When this Project leaks or spills, it will spill diluted bitumen (“dilbit”), an extra heavy version of crude oil that can cause even greater damage to the environment and is harder to clean up. See Petitioners’ Comments at 38-44, 49-51; Expert Comments at 27-34.
- The issue of whether the risk of a spill to critical state waters renders the Project unable to comply with water quality standards is, alone, enough of a basis for a contested case hearing.
D) The pipeline is a threat to the Ojibwe people’s wild rice – or manoomin – given the high sulfate levels of tars sands oil in the event of spill:
- The project will cross extremely sensitive wild rice—or manoomin, a critical staple of great cultural significance to the Ojibwe people—wetlands. Minnesota water quality standards specifically protect wild rice waters, specifying that their quality “must not be materially impaired or degraded,” (Minn. R. 7050.0224, subp. 1), and set a standard for sulfates of “10 mg/L, applicable to water used for production of wild rice during periods when the rice may be susceptible to damage by high sulfate levels,”
- Because dilbit contains high levels of sulfur compounds, including sulfates and sulfides, the risk that an oil spill will cause a violation of water quality standards in waters with wild rice is particularly high.
E) Public interest in Line 3 is equal to -- or greater than -- the Polymet controversy especially in the time of ongoing threats from climate change.
Chairman of White Earth Reservation Asks Gov. Walz for Immediate Action (click here)
In a strongly worded letter to Governor Walz March 26, 2020, White Earth Reservation Chairman, Mike Fairbanks, has asked the Governor Walz “to deny the present Enbridge Line 3 Clean Water Act section 401 application, without prejudice, to provide for refiling after the Covid-19 pandemic is resolved."
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency -- despite the Covid-19 pandemic – is moving forward with its regulatory process to approve or disapprove the 401 Water Quality permits for Line 3 with a series of telephone Town Halls beginning this week April 2, April 7 and April 9, 2020.
Chairman Fairbanks challenged Gov. Walz to live up to the commitment he made to improve relationships with Native Nations. In his letter to Walz, he wrote:
The Pollution Control Agency scheduling telephone town hall meetings and a one-week extension on the comment period is not really providing for Consultation, Coordination, and Cooperation under Executive Order 19-24. Too often tribal members do not have the time, resources and ability to electronically participate in a meaningful way and prefer public hearings to speak to share their concerns.
Fairbanks was referring to the Executive Order Walz issued last summer, which reads in part:
“This order ensures the State of Minnesota and the eleven tribes engage in true government-to-government relationships built on respect, understanding, and sovereignty,” said Governor Walz. “We are committed to meaningful consultation with the tribal communities in our state.” (Emphasis in original.)