As Enbridge takes a spring break from its destruction in building Line 3, let’s take a quick inventory of their progress, and the legal challenges to state, tribal and county governments.
Cultural whitewashing: Enbridge is spending a lot of money representing that they are friends with tribal people. In Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, tribes continue to oppose them in court, and criticize Enbridge for attempting to manipulate tribal governments and politics.
Repression and brutality: Over 250 people have been arrested thus far, most of them charged with trespassing and many of them subjected to unnecessary searches and held in jails during the pandemic. These are citizens of Minnesota and elsewhere, old and young, and they are all opposing this pipeline.
According to a recent story in the Minnesota Reformer, Enbridge has reimbursed over $500,000 of police expenses for Line 3 expenditures paid through an escrow account that the PUC set up for it as one of the terms for the PUC’s approval of Line 3. As an example, the Beltrami County Sheriff office has requested $189,000 from that “Public Safety Escrow Account” established by Enbridge and the utilities commission. Ironically, there is no Line 3 pipeline construction in Beltrami County, but the county has elected to incur expenses serving the Enbridge project needs, and add to the county coffers!
Experts in policing question these arrangements. Kevin Karpiak, an Eastern Michigan University professor, said in the Reformer article he hadn’t heard of an agreement like the public safety account before. For Karpiak, the public safety account raises questions about the broader role and authority of law enforcement, and “who the police work for, and whose interests they represent, or whose interests they claim to represent.”
Sex and pipelines: Enbridge has represented that it is addressing the sex trafficking and missing and murdered Indigenous women who have been impacted by their projects. Indeed, the company has become a major patron of Native organizations working on these issues. Nonetheless, in February 2021, two Precision Pipeline contractors were charged in a sex trafficking bust. One was from Missouri and the other from Texas, according to the Duluth News Tribune.
Jobs: Enbridge promised that 50% of the jobs would be from Minnesota, but, the Star Tribune reports, “… at the end of December — the first full month of construction — just 33% of the 4,664 workers building the replacement for Enbridge's current Line 3 were Minnesota residents. Minnesota workers provided only 28% of the labor for the project. Many of those jobs have been in logging and in security ....” At the end, Enbridge will be providing a scant 23 jobs over the long term, according to the company.
Minnesota businesses in the north certainly have received business from Enbridge, and the company has been busy spreading money around to municipalities and charities, usually with an agreement that the recipients state support for Line 3. Enbridge also has allegedly been providing food shelf and emergency services support in its courtship of rural communities faced with ongoing crises.
What’s interesting, though, is that the company has had a major presence in northern Minnesota for decades, but has never been this generous. In the town of Clearbrook, for instance, the Good Samaritan Nursing Home closed down in 2018, lacking the resources to continue. In the meantime there was Enbridge, in the same town, and it stood aside as 50 people lost their jobs and 100 residents had to find new homes, as reported in the Bemidji Pioneer.
Blowing off governments: In Michigan, the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac is 60 years old and precarious. Enbridge has suggested that $300 million would cover a spill, while independent investigators found that $40 billion was the possible cost. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the pipeline to cease operating by May 12, 2021.
On Jan. 13, 2021, Enbridge rejected Michigan's orders, “that the State lacks the authority to terminate or revoke” the easement, a move that it says would wrongfully displace the role of the federal pipeline administrator.
Wisconsin officials found that Enbridge had under-reported a spill that was over 1,200 gallons. Jefferson County residents are questioning why Enbridge Energy took 21 days to repair a leaking underground pipeline that spilled more than 1,200 gallons of petroleum near Fort Atkinson, contaminating soil and groundwater, and did not report the spill to regulators for more than 15 months.
Tribal governments continue to oppose this pipeline. Across the northland, from Red Lake to Bad River and the Little Traverse Band of Odawa, the company continues to try and impact tribal governance and regulations, as well as state regulations. It filed a lawsuit against the Bad River Tribe, which has asked Enbridge to remove l3 miles of pipe, some of which is now exposed, and has had no legal easement for four years.
Taxes: Then there’s the recent Minnesota state tax court ruling that admits that the state has overvalued Enbridge’s pipelines, which will mean some of the poorest counties up north will be saddled with paying back $55 million in past tax revenues they thought were theirs’ to keep. For some it’s going to be devastating, unless the legislature bails them out. And that means, you and I are paying Enbridge. Hmmm.
Winona LaDuke is executive director, Honor the Earth, and an Ojibwe writer and economist on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation. She is also owner of Winona's Hemp and a regular contributor to Forum News Service.