Joe Biden started his presidency by cancelling the permit that would have allowed the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the border from Canada into the United States. As part of a sweeping “Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” which addressed many of the worst assaults on the environment that had occurred during the presidency of Donald Trump, Biden declared:
“The Keystone XL pipeline disserves the U.S. national interest. The United States and the world face a climate crisis. That crisis must be met with action on a scale and at a speed commensurate with the need to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory. At home, we will combat the crisis with an ambitious plan to build back better, designed to both reduce harmful emissions and create good clean-energy jobs. Our domestic efforts must go hand in hand with U.S. diplomatic engagement. Because most greenhouse gas emissions originate beyond our borders, such engagement is more necessary and urgent than ever. The United States must be in a position to exercise vigorous climate leadership in order to achieve a significant increase in global climate action and put the world on a sustainable climate pathway. Leaving the Keystone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consistent with my Administration’s economic and climate imperatives.”
The new president’s decision to revoke the Keystone XL permit sent a powerful signal regarding the need to fight climate change, seek alternatives to fossil fuels and respect the rights of indigenous peoples and farmers in the heartland. It defined this administration’s values. Even in the face of immense pressure from the fossil fuel industry, Biden stood firm in his faith that, “Where the Federal Government has failed to meet that commitment in the past, it must (now) advance environmental justice.”
That faith is tested anew by the question of whether to block completion of Enbridge Inc.’s new Line 3 pipeline, a 1,097-mile project to carry Canadian tar sands crude oil from Alberta to Superior in northern Wisconsin. A 1991 rupture on the old pipeline saw 1.7 million gallons of oil flow into Minnesota’s Prairie River, and the corroded and cracked line has continued to leak and spill ever since.
The old line needed to be shut down, and it did not need to be replaced — as the tar sand industry is tanking. But Enbridge has gone all in for a new line that is now nearing completion. The building project has been a mess. Just a few weeks ago, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) announced that there had been 23 drilling fluid releases at 12 river crossing locations from June 8 to Aug. 25 of this year.
The Sierra Club’s Wisconsin chapter is justifiably concerned that a company that has so much trouble building a new pipeline will have even more trouble operating it.
“If the Line 3 replacement is completed, it will double the carrying capacity of the current line by initially carrying about 760,000 barrels of crude oil per day across Northern Minnesota from Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. This expansion would be disastrous for the fight against climate change as it would add 193 million tons of CO2 into our atmosphere, which is more than the entire state of Minnesota currently emits and is equivalent to adding 50 new coal power plants or 38 million new vehicles to the road,” says the Sierra Club. “The pipeline would also cross over 200 bodies of water, including the Mississippi River twice. This puts watersheds and affected regions at risk during construction and at risk of spill if it is completed as Enbridge has had over 800 spills in the last 15 years. Some of these affected areas are territories where Ojibwe tribal members have protected property rights backed by treaties. The dangers of a new pipeline violates these treaties and threatens the Anishinaabeg’s culture and way of life.”
That’s not a risk that should be taken.
Biden was right to block the Keystone XL pipeline, and he now needs to take the necessary steps to block the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. The Army Corps of Engineers can and should revoke Line 3's current water permit and, as the Sierra Club proposes, order the preparation of “an Environmental Impact Statement that takes into account the full impacts of a toxic tar sands oil pipeline on clean water, Indigenous rights, and the climate.” Such a review, we are certain, will lead to the shutting down of the entire Line 3 project — a move that, in our view, is long overdue.
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