The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) recently voted 4-1 to declare the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for Enbridge's controversial line 3 as being "inadequate." It outlined three technical inadequacies and requested an important cultural properties survey currently being done on the Fond du Lac reservation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to be submitted as a supplemental document before any construction could be done, once the commission votes next spring to approve or disapprove the line.
The vote gives several false impressions. With only three items to remedy, the PUC's action implies that everything else in the FEIS is kosher. And by agreeing to look at cultural impacts on the Ojibwe, including tribal members' land, water, sacred sites and way of life, before any heavy machinery can roll, the PUC will have done its obligatory due diligence for the tribes.
While the PUC vote and survey request might look good on paper, the commission's actions confirm that they do not need to have access to the cultural resources survey as part of their decisionmaking process. Here's why: At the time that construction would begin, by definition the PUC permitting process would have concluded. Thus, the cultural properties survey could logically have no impact on the commission's decisionmaking on the proposed Line 3 "replacement." The Minnesota Department of Commerce (DOC) — which last fall rejected Enbridge's claim that this pipeline is needed economically — now needs only to include a statement in a revised FEIS stating that the survey must be done before the start of construction. In other words, it's a flimsy Band-Aid masking a host of other major issues.
Pipeline opponents have long contended that this is no replacement since it's leaving the old line in the ground. And by establishing a new corridor, Enbridge is in reality creating a new line that can deliver more than 900,000 barrels per day (BPD) of tar sands crude across northern Minnesota, even while large banks globally — and U.S. Bank here at home — are divesting from fossil fuels at a surprisingly alarming rate.
The PUC vote generally affirms that the rest of the state's FEIS for Line 3 is adequate to meet the environmental review requirements of the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act. Nothing could be further from the truth because this process from day one has been fatally flawed on a number of fronts.
Here's a list of what's lacking, the glaring deficiencies that appear to be insignificant to the commission as it moves forward:
• A failure to model an oil spill into the St. Louis River, Duluth-Superior Harbor or Lake Superior, despite the fact that the proposed pipeline would pass through these watersheds to a tank farm near the shores of Lake Superior.
• A failure to consider any route that avoids the land, water, plants and animals that Ojibwe rely on for survival.
• A lack of a proper cultural resource survey to protect Ojibwe, Dakota, and Nakota archaeological sites and sacred places. The five Ojibwe bands intervening in the state process have asked the PUC to conduct and include in the EIS a full cultural resources survey of the proposed route and all alternative routes.
• Evaluation of preposterous rail and truck alternatives proposed by Enbridge instead of reasonable commercial alternatives to building a new pipeline.
• Oil spill modeling based on an assumption that the pipeline would transport 155,000 BPD less than it is designed to accommodate.
• The absence of a survey for leaked crude oil from Enbridge's existing Line 3 pipeline to determine how much it will cost to clean up the existing pipeline corridor.
• A failure to respond to hundreds of pages on the draft EIS of detailed comments submitted by Honor the Earth and other parties, including comments from DNR and PCA about the inappropriate analysis of alternative routes and groundwater impacts.
• The failure by the state and Enbridge to respect the environmental review process when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency illegally approved Enbridge construction permits for pipe storage yards in 12 locations for the Line 3 project.
This EIS is another example of government paperwork that fails to protect us, the first inhabitants of Minnesota and the many nonnative landowners and others who oppose the line.
We wanted the EIS to fully address the legitimate and heartfelt concerns of real people. We wanted the PUC to take a hard look at impacts and alternatives, but it didn't. But when the state ignored most of our comments — even in the early Draft EIS — the writing was on the wall. Our voices are not being heard, which is just part of our long history of broken promises.
Winona LaDuke is the co-founder and executive director of Honor the Earth, a Minnesota-based environmental justice organization led by indigenous women, dedicated to protecting indigenous homelands and resources, and empowering communities with energy independence through renewables. www.honorearth.org.