ST. PAUL, Minn. — A large oil pipeline project received renewed support from Minnesota regulators this week. It’s just one recent issue that is thrusting the region into the larger debate over fossil fuels.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission denied a request to reconsider its support of the Line 3 pipeline replacement project. Tribal leaders and environmental groups say the new line would create more oil than is needed, with harmful effects on waterways and forests.
Brett Benson, communications director at the group MN350, says despite the latest setback, the project’s approval isn’t a foregone conclusion.
“It’s not just environmental groups like us,” says Benson. “We’re convincing state agencies. So, we’re going to stop the pipeline.”
The state Department of Commerce has stated its opposition to the pipeline plan.
The company behind Line 3, Enbridge Energy, says the existing line over northern Minnesota is old and needs substantial repairs, and that a new line would be safer. More permits are needed for the project.
In another key action this week, state Attorney General Keith Ellison filed suit against major oil companies like Exxon-Mobil, accusing them of deceiving the public about the environmental damage caused by fossil fuels.
Benson’s group applauds the lawsuit, saying even though Minnesota isn’t a major oil-producing state, it needs to show how the region has been impacted.
“We all can look around and see,” says Benson. “The weather wasn’t this way, you know, 20 years ago. So, it’s not hard to see how climate change is affecting Minnesota.”
According to researchers at the University of Minnesota, winters in the state are warming at a rate 13 times faster than summers.
Even though similar lawsuits against “Big Oil” have been rejected by the courts, Benson says that’s no reason to stop. He points out that the landmark settlement against “Big Tobacco” in 1998 came only after lengthy opposition from that industry.