REGIONAL— The majority of the members of an advisory panel to the state’s Pollution Control Agency has announced their resignation in protest of the agency’s recent approval of …
REGIONAL— The majority of the members of an advisory panel to the state’s Pollution Control Agency has announced their resignation in protest of the agency’s recent approval of permits for the Line 3 pipeline project. Twelve of the 17 members of the Environmental Justice Advisory Group, or EJAG, made their resignations public this week in a letter to MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop.
“After much discussion, we cannot continue to legitimize and provide cover for the MPCA’s war on black and brown people,” wrote the dozen signatories in their letter to the commissioner. “Line 3 will mean violated treaty rights, heightened risk of sexual trafficking and sexual violence, and insult to the three tribal nations that strongly oppose its construction.”
The letter cites the environmental risks of the Line 3 project, which they argue will cross over 200 bodies of water, threatening rivers, wetlands, and wild rice beds along its path.
The group also cites the project’s implications for climate change, by facilitating tar sands development in Alberta, which is known to have a significant carbon footprint.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration created the EJAG in 2016, ostensibly as a means of bringing more minority voices into the state’s environmental decision-making. Longtime activist Winona LaDuke, who was a member of the group, noted that it was a highly diverse organization, including representation from indigenous people, the Somali and Hmong communities, and Latinos. “We worked really hard to try to improve the MPCA’s status on environmental justice,” she said in an interview with the Timberjay this week. “What we got was a slap in the face and lip service. To shove a pipeline down our throats, come on!”
Supporters of Line 3 argue that the project will create much-needed construction jobs in the region, potentially beginning as early as next month, and that it is designed to replace a 1960s-era pipeline that has become increasingly prone to corrosion and cracking. Both the Department of Natural Resources and the MPCA approved key permits for the project last week, although litigation over the project continues.
“We encourage all Minnesotans to accept the sound agency decisions based on an expansive scientific record and the fact that the project has proven it will meet and, when possible, exceed regulations as outlined by law,” said Nancy Norr, the board chair for Jobs for Minnesotans. “It’s time we come together as a state to advance this critical $2.6 billion-dollar private investment in Minnesota’s energy infrastructure.”
Yet LaDuke and other opponents of the project don’t buy such arguments. “The Keystone pipeline leaked 117,000 gallons last year, so new pipelines aren’t necessarily safer,” she said.
While pipeline proponents argue that Line 3 is merely a replacement, the route is a new one, notes LaDuke, that she believes will threaten valuable water resources, including wild rice beds, along the way.
Opponents are also raising concerns about the public health impact of a major construction project in the midst of a pandemic. “You’re talking about bringing 4,200 workers from out-of-state into northern Minnesota in the midst of a pandemic,” she said. “We have high at-risk populations here.” Many of the counties that would host the new workers have limited medical facilities, she notes.
It’s unclear what, if anything, the MPCA will do in response to the mass resignations on the EJAG board. The Timberjay reached out to the MPCA’s spokesperson for comment, but he did not respond as of press time. The MPCA’s EJAG web page is no longer accessible to the public or media and agency officials have offered no explanation for the disappearance of the page.