The Biden government has defended a controversial pipeline project that would transport hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil through Minnesota’s tricky watersheds, and in a court paper called for a challenge from local tribes and environmental groups to be dismissed.
The closely watched filing in federal court was the latest in a series of actions the administration has taken to order back approvals from the Trump era of the oil and gas infrastructure, despite President Biden’s promise to aggressively reduce emissions from fossil fuels, one of the main drivers of climate change. The pipeline known as Line 3, which is being built by the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Energy, has been the focus of mass protests in recent weeks.
Mr Biden could still decide to withdraw the federal permits that the pipeline depends on for construction progress. But for now, the government is defending a decision by the United States Army Corps of Engineers to grant these permits. That decision was made in the final days of the Trump administration.
The clash between Mr Biden’s commitments on climate change and his recent decisions disappointed those who had hoped the United States would finally take aggressive steps to stave off the worst effects of global warming. It also illustrates the difficulty of weaning the country off of the oil and gas that has long fueled its economy.
Indigenous groups have also sought newfound political influence. Native Americans, such as Home Secretary Deb Haaland, now hold important positions within the Biden government and have stated that they intend to keep Mr. Biden on his campaign promises on racial justice, especially for tribal communities.
“We are extremely disappointed that the Biden administration is continuing the Trump administration’s policies of ignoring tribal rights, environmental justice and climate concerns in favor of fossil fuel industry profits,” said Moneen Nasmith of environmental rights group Earthjustice, one of the lawyers on the case, said in an email. “If the president takes seriously his promise to take climate and tribal rights seriously, his administration must stop defending the Trump administration’s decision.”
The Enbridge Project, which received final approvals under President Donald J. Trump, is a 340-mile diversion on a wider pipeline network. When completed, it would transport 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta through northern Minnesota and into Wisconsin to the tip of Lake Superior.
It would replace an older crude oil pipeline that was built in the 1960s and had problems with corrosion, leaks and leaks, forcing Enbridge to cut its capacity in half in 2008. In 2015, Enbridge cited corrosive pipes and future oil needs to say that Line 3 would be diverted, which would allow it to restore its original capacity.
The government’s support for the pipeline is “a betrayal of the Indian people,” said Winona LaDuke, executive director and co-founder of Honor the Earth, an indigenous environmental organization that is one of the leading groups against the pipeline. “We intend to continue to oppose this pipeline,” she said. “We will file more lawsuits. Expect more resistance. “
The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians and the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, along with several environmental groups, are fighting against the pipeline in federal court, one of the three main legal challenges facing the project.
The tribes argue that the Army Corps of Engineers broke the law by granting the pipeline a permit without properly assessing how the pipeline could damage the wetlands and waterways it would cross.
The pipeline would pass through treaty-protected tribal areas, they emphasize, including watersheds that support wild rice, a staple food and an important element of cultural heritage for local tribes. And in the event of a leak, the heavy oil flowing through the pipeline could sink to the bottom of rivers and streams, making cleaning difficult, environmental groups warn.
The pipeline would also carry a particularly filthy form of oil which, if burned, would release nearly 200 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere annually over the life of the pipeline, according to the project’s final environmental impact statement. That corresponds to the emissions of 45 coal-fired power plants or 38 million cars.
In their letter, filed overnight by the Justice Department with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Biden administration said the Corps had considered a reasonable range of alternatives, including protecting wetlands, wild rice, and cultural resources . It also said the Corps had met its obligations under the Clean Water Act. The Biden government filing urged the court to reject the tribes’ legal challenge.
In a statement, an Enbridge spokesman, Michael Barnes, welcomed the government filing, saying it “sets out the very thorough review behind the science-based approval”.
Enbridge worked with indigenous tribes in what Mr. Barnes said was “the longest and most extensive” consultation process of its kind on an energy project. He added that under a consent decree made during the Obama administration, the company was required to replace its older pipeline.
Construction is due to be completed by the end of this year, Barnes said. The court is expected to rule on the case this year as well.
The White House declined to comment. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The extension of Line 3 was seen as a test of the Biden government’s commitment to combating climate change.
In his first week as president, Mr Biden signed an ordinance to combat climate change, rejoined the Paris Agreement, and announced another pipeline, the Keystone XL, which would also have carried the product of Canada’s oil sands, one of the dirtiest forms of energy. The Biden government also recently suspended oil well leases at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and announced this week that it would order a rigorous environmental review for another Enbridge oil pipeline project, Line 5, which runs under the Great Lakes. Enbridge said this will delay the construction of that pipeline.
At the same time, the Biden government has defended a huge oil drilling operation on Alaska’s North Slope and has taken other measures that could guarantee the drilling and burning of oil and gas for decades.
Matt Furber contributed the coverage from Minneapolis.
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