To tribes’ consternation, the Minnesota Public Utility Commission (PUC) has granted Enbridge Inc. a certificate of need, meaning the agency has determined that it is indeed necessary for the company to construct a new pipeline across the state—one that cuts directly through indigenous wild rice beds.
On June 5 and 6, the White Earth and Mille Lacs bands of Ojibwe each came out strongly against the Sandpiper pipeline.
“The Minnesota PUC’s decision to grant a certificate of need to the Enbridge Corporation is a declaration of war against the Anishinaabeg people, a slap to tribal governments, and a threat to the water of Minnesota,” said activist and author Winona LaDuke, founder of the conservation group Honor the Earth, in a media release. “Honor the Earth and the Ojibwe community is disappointed in the PUC decision to grant the certificate of need to the Enbridge Corporation for a new energy corridor through the heart of our territory.”
“This is far from over,” concurred Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin to the Brainerd Daily Dispatch. “We will do everything we can to protect our homeland.”
Both the White Earth and the Mille Lacs Ojibwe held hearings this week to enable members to voice their concerns about the proposed $2.6 billion, 610-mile-long pipeline, which would forge a new energy corridor outside existing pipeline routes in order to carry volatile Bakken oil to Wisconsin refineries.
“This hearing is important because our voices are critical, and powerful,” said Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin during her opening remarks, according to a statement. “This is not just about the rights of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. This is about the rights of Band members to live, work and raise our children in an environment free from pollution.”
The certificate of need is just one of two construction hurdles, the news website Detroit Lakes Online noted. Still pending is a routing permit, which would determine the actual route, “and there are multiple options to be considered,” Detroit Lakes said.
This is where there could be room for change, as the Associated Press pointed out. The decision about route will require a different set of proceedings.
“While the Public Utilities Commission agreed 5-0 that the $2.6 billion, 610-mile pipeline is necessary and in the public interest, commissioners didn’t foreclose the possibility of rerouting it away from environmentally sensitive lakes, streams and wetlands,” AP reported.
But that fact has not eased tribal concerns.
“The proposed route for this pipeline cuts right through the Big Sandy Lake watershed, potentially impacting precious environmental resources such as wild rice growing throughout the region,” Benjamin said at the June 5 hearing. “This is an issue of grave concern to tribal communities, yet the Public Utilities Commission did not attempt to consult with tribal governments. The hearing held today is to make sure tribal voices are heard loud and clear.”