This week the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) will announce a consequential water quality certification permit decision for the Canadian Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline. The agency appears poised to approve it.
Gov. Tim Walz has said repeatedly that his administration will follow the law and the science. This is good. But if the governor and Commissioner Laura Bishop decide to approve this pipeline project based on claims that they were boxed in by the law, they will have ignored the law and the science.
The reality is that Minnesota has every law and authority needed right now to deny this project a permit. If the administration issues this water quality permit, it is because it has made deliberate choices to find a path to grant this permit to Enbridge. That path would be legally objectionable and scientifically flawed.
The law says this pipeline can be stopped cold because construction alone would cause "unavoidable" degradation to high water quality along its 330-mile cut through Minnesota — even if it never spills a drop of oil. This degradation is according to the MPCA's own analysis. The pipeline path will cross over 200 bodies of water, impact thousands of acres of wetlands and over 40 wild rice beds. MPCA has said that the pipeline's route will cross pristine waters and that the project will degrade those waters. These facts alone are enough to deny the certification.
The law also says that if one is going to make the case that despite this degradation, the pipeline is needed for social or economic benefits, there are considerations that must be applied by the MPCA commissioner. These considerations include "other relevant environmental, social and economic impacts of the proposed activity."
To justify giving Enbridge this permit to degrade our high-quality waters, the MPCA has cherry-picked factors to make the case that the pipeline is a necessary benefit to our communities. But here are some considerations the MPCA chose to leave out of its analysis:
1. Climate impacts: The extra annual greenhouse gas emissions from this expanded pipeline is equal to building 50 new coal plants in Minnesota and running them continuously. This is annually greater than the emissions from the entire state of Minnesota in 2016 from all sectors combined.
Despite our own state agency's economic analysis that put the climate harms of this project at $287 billion, the MPCA has adopted a position that exact emissions levels are unknowable and therefore should not be considered.
2. Harms to Indigenous communities: Three Native nations are in court right now fighting against this project. The new path of the pipeline violates rights of the 1842, 1854 and 1855 treaties, and degrades the water, wild rice and wild spaces that sustain the people in these communities every day. As Commissioner Matthew Schuerger of the Public Utilities Commission pointed out in his dissenting opinion concerning the project's Certificate of Need, "the project will directly, materially and adversely impact many Indigenous populations."
In its analysis, the MPCA has so far adopted a position that these concerns are not relevant to its review of the project. It is choosing to look the other way.
For people concerned about climate and environmental justice, fighting Enbridge hasn't been easy.
We don't have millions of dollars a year to spend on lobbying, to put people up in hotels before public meetings, to run ads in newspapers and all over social media, to devote incredible resources to trying to convince communities that this pipeline should be part of their future.
But here's what we do have: the science, the facts and the law.
Minnesota law already has everything our agencies need to deny this permit. The governor and MPCA Commissioner may still choose to approve it. That would be a travesty.
But they should not injure us further by denying that they have a choice.
Steve Morse is the executive director of Minnesota Environmental Partnership. This article is also submitted on behalf of: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Environmental Justice Advisory Group, Climate Generation, MN350, Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, Sierra Club North Star Chapter, Land Stewardship Project and CURE (Clean Up River Environment).