Oil Pipeline Regulation Process “Not Working” Say Environmentalists

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Jesse Peterson and Francis the baby

Kristin Larsen

Jesse Peterson and Francis the baby

Sometimes you need to get arrested to be heard.

Last month more than 250 people marched to Enbridge’s offices in Duluth to deliver a letter asking the oil company to delay expansion of its pipelines until full environmental impact statements had been completed. Enbridge staff refused to read the letter and called police, who arrested seven of the demonstrators for trespassing.

On Tuesday, four of those arrested got a chance to tell the media what they wanted to tell Enbridge.

“We’re here because we’ve been playing by the rules in this pipeline process for three years and it’s not working,” said Honor The Earth organizer Thane Maxwell. “The regulatory process of the state is profoundly dysfunctional. Enbridge’s own process is disrespectful and aggressive, dishonest and in violation of their own policy on consultation and relationships with native people.”

The process for regulating an international pipeline is complicated and Honor The Earth and other environmental groups have been fighting it in court. This week Enbridge won a federal court victory that would let it increase crude oil shipments from Canada to the United States via two parallel pipelines it reconfigured at the border to skirt a regulated capacity limit on one of them. Environmentalists say the switch circumvented environmental review of the expansion project.

The rulings came a day after a National Academies of Sciences study found the heavy bitumen crude oil from Canada poses an extra environmental risk. When spilled into waterways it soon turns into a thick, hard-to-recover residue that doesn’t degrade. One of the Enbridge lines being used to ship the crude across Minnesota operates at reduced volume because of its history of leaks.

The letter Maxwell and other supporters brought to Enbridge had several specific requests for changes to the permitting process, including formal consultation with tribal governments (as required by Enbridge’s official Aboriginal and Native American policy), and postponement of all projects until full Environmental Impact Statements have been completed (as required by state and federal law). Most of all, they want to have a conversation with the company.

Enbridge’s response, drums and round dance video

In a prepared statement, Enbridge says it wants to have “conversations”, but asks that they be in an “appropriate forum,” which apparently their Duluth office was not.

“So this action was our way of going to their space, to their office and saying what you’re doing is not OK,” Maxwell told the media before he and three others were arraigned on trespassing charges at the St. Louis County Courthouse.

“They do not want to have a conversation. They do not want to engage with us. They want to make a profit,” said one of the demonstrators who had visited Enbridge.

“The people who were arrested that day were non-native people,” said Maxwell. “This is a solidarity action, solidarity arrest. It’s non-native people standing up and saying treaties are our issue too. Our ancestors signed those agreements and we have a responsibility to uphold them.”

The big picture

Jesse Peterson was one of those arrested. He sees the struggle with Enbridge as part of a larger power clash between the profit-driven wealthy class and everyone else.

“They’re thinking that a quest for profits makes more sense in giving just a few people the ability to hoard a wealth so powerful that they get to decide if you have jobs and food and shelter. They can make rules that hurt native folks, they hurt black folks, white folks that they don’t like. and there’s just too much power in too few hands. We need to have real conversations. Their laws prevent us from having real conversations. They’re immoral laws. They’re laws I don’t want and they’re laws I won’t behave with.”

And please don’t call them protesters. “We’re not here protesting,” said Maxwell. “We’re here protecting the earth.”

“This is the same process of colonialist violence that’s been going on for 500 years. Corporations, the government – they’re in it together.”

“500 years is enough.”

Video above: press conference outside St. Louis County Courthouse before trespassing arraignment
Videos below: Round dance and drumming outside courthouse

Babbette Budrow Sandman leads a round dance to unify and show support.
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Native Americans, Ojibwe drummers
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Michael McIntee

Michael McIntee is a former network TV news executive with more than 30 years of broadcasting experience. He began his broadcasting career at the University of Minnesota's student radio station. He is an expert producer, writer, video editor who has a fondness for new technology but denies that he is a geek. More about Michael McIntee »

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