Opinion: The pipeline that President Biden needs to stop

We’re just two months into President Joe Biden’s administration. On his first day in office he revoked the permit to halt construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, another long-fought tar sands oil project proposed out of Alberta, Canada. Climate science and racial justice are clear priorities for this administration. Science isn’t a bad word and Covid-19 is a crisis, not a hoax.

Yet, here in the north woods of Minnesota, any progress feels far away. It’s hard to celebrate when your sacred places are threatened to be torn apart in front of your eyes. Tears swim in tired eyes and prayers go up for the delicate wild rice beds downstream, the generations not yet born and the pain of inequity as old as the state of Minnesota.

It omits the fact that we’ve been conditioned to believe that a company’s “need” to build a new pipeline should be automatically approved and accepted by the public. The Minnesota Department of Commerce is now challenging the state’s Public Utilities Commission in court for approving the pipeline — arguing that Enbridge failed to submit a long-range forecast showing a demand for the oil Line 3 carries. It overlooks that the new Line 3 would emit 193 million tons of carbon dioxide each year — more than the rest of the state — and, moreover, that it is another nail in the coffin for sustainable human life on this planet and another slap in the face to indigenous sovereignty.
Many of the Ojibwe people gathered at the Mississippi to protest the Line 3 replacement pipeline also showed their support for the George Floyd demonstrations last summer. We marched, we stood united against police brutality and demanded justice. Our liberatory fronts are intertwined — stolen labor and stolen land lie at the foundation of the United States. Our watersheds are intertwined; what happens upstream affects the millions downstream. Our personhood is intertwined; what happens to the vulnerable reflects the societal whole.
In February, an excavator broke through the ice with the operator trapped inside. Thankfully, the operator lived. Enbridge released a statement in response, saying, “Safety is our first priority for the thousands workers who are currently replacing Line 3 on construction sites spread across the more than 330 mile route.” In December, another Enbridge contractor who was the father of nine died after he was run over by a fork lift. Enbridge paused work until the next day and said, “safety standards and protocols were reinforced.”
Several tribal-led lawsuits are waiting to be heard by the courts as Enbridge works at full steam ahead to bulldoze through our wetlands. Earlier this year, a US appeals court ruled in favor of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and upheld a lower court’s decision to strike down a key federal permit for the Dakota Access oil pipeline. That victory, however, came over three years after the Dakota Access pipeline was finished, and the pipeline has already leaked multiple times. It is a common tactic of the fossil fuel industry to slam through projects that tribes may oppose before their legal issues are heard.
The Line 3 replacement, which would be one of the largest tar sands infrastructure in North America, won’t run through wealthy suburbs. It largely threatens places that are out of sight and out of mind for most Americans: the prairies, the wetlands, the wild rice tributaries and the treaty lands of indigenous peoples. And at its terminus, like so many other refineries across the US, we find communities of low wealth, communities treated as sacrifice zones. Cancer clusters, contaminated water and deadly explosions are too often overlooked when corporations stand to benefit. It’s convenient to continue relying on fossil fuels and dangerous chemicals. Dehumanization comes at a steep cost — our lands, our waters, our lives become expendable and inequity the norm.

As an immigrant and an indigenous person, we see the interconnectedness of climate justice, of structural racism and disregard for human life. Climate change does not stop at the border of a reservation or a state or a country — it impacts us all. The decision to move forward with the implementation of Line 3 is a decision made for the entire world and for all future generations of humanity. Now is not the time to be silent. Now is the time to raise our voices and urge President Biden to take action to stop Line 3.

This article has been updated to clarify that the Ojibwe people protesting the Line 3 pipeline also showed their support for the George Floyd demonstrations last summer.

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