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Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Winona Laduke??? and other ???water protectors??? rally at the Wisc.-Minn. border on June 29, 2018, the morning after Line 3 is approved. They???re vowing to fight to keep the oil pipeline from being built across Minnesota. (Dan Kraker | MPR News)

Biden made a big deal about respecting indigenous rights around pipelines and other environmental justice issues where Native communities have been subjected to repeated violence and violations of their sovereignty. So is he going to do anything about it or was it just talk? This situation in Minnesota will tell us a lot.

The protesters who gathered in the boreal forests of Northern Minnesota came from across the country — Native American tribes and their supporters, environmentalists and religious leaders — all to fight an expansion of Line 3, a $9 billion pipeline operated by the Canadian company, Enbridge, that would carry hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil through Minnesota’s delicate watersheds and tribal lands.

Some said they had come ready to risk arrest by lying down in the path of construction. Others said they were here to support tribes that have been battling oil and gas pipelines for years, including the highly contentious Dakota Access Pipeline.

Late on Monday, police began making arrests after dozens of activists used an old fishing boat, bamboo and steel cable to blockade the road to a construction site off Highway 71 north of Park Rapids. Several hundred others scaled the fence at the site and occupied it, some climbing atop diggers and transformer boxes or chaining themselves to construction equipment.

Police in riot gear “broke through the steel fences and they just began arresting everyone,” said Tara Houska, a tribal attorney and member of the Couchiching First Nation Anishinaabe along the Canadian border. “This is an act of violence on tribal land,” she said.

Behind the scenes, Native lawyers have been urging the Biden administration to intervene. They are trying to flex a newfound political clout among tribal nations — Native Americans now hold important positions within the Biden administration — and say they intend to hold Mr. Biden to his campaign promises on racial equity, particularly for their communities.

The project, which received its final approvals under President Trump, is a 340-mile rerouting of a wider pipeline network. Once completed, it would carry 760,000 barrels of tar-sands oil a day from Alberta, Canada, across northern Minnesota and into Wisconsin to the tip of Lake Superior.

In his first week as president, Mr. Biden signed an executive order vowing to address climate change, rejoined the Paris climate agreement among the nations of the world, and canceled another pipeline, the Keystone XL, which would also have brought tar-sands oil, one of the dirtiest forms of energy, from Canada. He also recently suspended oil drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

At the same time, the Biden administration has defended a huge Trump-era drilling project and has taken other actions that could guarantee the drilling and burning of oil and gas for decades. And the president has so far stayed silent on Line 3, which would carry enough oil that, when burned, would add nearly 200 million tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere each year during the pipeline’s lifetime, according to the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement. That’s the equivalent impact of annual emissions from 45 coal-fired power plants, or 38 million cars.

“Particularly from a climate standpoint, the case for a brand-new, massive tar-sands pipeline is extremely thin and frankly nonexistent,” said Moneen Nasmith, an attorney with the environmental legal organization, EarthJustice, which is challenging the pipeline.

Again, does any of this really matter to Biden? Or was it all just bullshit for the purposes of political posturing? We will find out soon enough. I fear it is the latter.

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