Did the U.S. Department of State strike a backroom deal with Enbridge Inc. that allowed the company to skirt legal protocols and expand a pipeline carrying both Alberta oil sands and Bakken crudes?
On September 10 oral arguments will be heard in a Minneapolis federal courtroom to try and determine just that.
The plaintiffs, including the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, the non-profit conservation organization Honor the Earth, and the Sierra Club, charge that the U.S. Department of State approved a l6-mile pipeline segment along the border that would move oil from Canada to the U.S. via a pipeline known as Line 3, which has been approved for such transport since the 1960s but is aging. By switching from the Alberta Clipper to the Line 3 pipeline at the border, Enbridge avoided the need for approval of the Alberta Clipper’s route.
Despite being revamped, the nearly retired Line 3 still shows 900 structural anomalies, said Honor the Earth Executive Director Winona LaDuke in a statement. Nevertheless, in August 2014 the State Department approved Enbridge’s plan to move forward with Line 3 instead of the Alberta Clipper pipeline.
On April 14, conservation and tribal groups filed a complaint against the State Department for allegedly allowing Enbridge to bypass the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act, both of which are legally required for permitting.
Even without a federal review of the expansion’s environmental and social impacts such as oil spills, air pollution, ground disturbances, climate change effects and effects on properties eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, the state department allowed Enbridge to move forward. Thursday’s hearing will help determine whether State was within its legal rights to do so.
Tribes are also angry that the State Department did not hold hearings within Native communities. The Rice Lake communities are in the path of the proposed Line 3 and Sandpiper routes, so they held their own hearings. The forums enabled more than 40 tribal members to speak out against the pipelines. According to a statement released by the White Earth band, every potential pipeline that would move tar sands or fracked oil to Lake Superior and the Great Lakes is running through Ojibwe reservations or treaty land.
Enbridge has said that it will give the utmost care to the environment and that its carbon footprint will be minimal.
In response to the state refusal to release critical information, tribal governments held their own environmental impact hearings, and findings will be released by the Mille Lacs band in the upcoming month.
In the past two weeks, the White Earth Band of Anishinaabe and the Sierra Club have held public hearings and a wild rice harvest. On August 25, Anishinaabe tribal members, Lakota leaders from the Pine Ridge Reservation, and non-Native allies on horseback and in canoes made their way along the proposed Enbridge corridor. Simultaneously, 100 people and environmental groups joined together to protest at Secretary of State John Kerry’s house.
The oral argument will be open to press and will take place on Thursday, September 10 at 9:30 AM central time. It will be held at the U.S. Courthouse in Minneapolis, 300 South Fourth Street, Courtroom 13E.
“This is 2015, not l889,” said LaDuke after her request for government-to-government discussions was rebuffed. “Native people need to be treated as first class citizens, not third-class enemy combatants.”