I once had the pleasure of working with a man named Phil, who was an avid fisherman. Between work and sleep, he spent most of his time fishing. He was by no means a political activist, but he always wore his signature baseball cap emblazoned with the warning: “We can’t all live upstream.” At that time, Phil was worried about how the nuclear power plant in Red Wing would affect the water and fish around the plant and downstream from it. Others shared his worries, in particular members of the Prairie Island Indian Community just next door.
Phil was right to worry: Water discharged from cooling towers at a higher temperature than the normal river water made it harder for fish to survive near these discharge pipes and further downstream. In addition, radioactive tritium discharged into the river from the plant proved dangerous to all aquatic life and to all who use river water. In 2016, concerned about living next door to an aging nuclear power plant and nuclear waste storage facility, the Prairie Island Tribal Council purchased land outside St. Paul to provide for future generations.
I am certain that Phil, wherever he is, is just as worried, if not more so, about pipelines planned from northern Minnesota, because the effects could be even worse. Enbridge Energy is planning to replace one of its aged and failing lines (Line 3) with one that would be even bigger and riskier. This pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Canada. When this substance leaks into the water, as it did when Enbridge’s pipeline burst in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2015, tar sands oil, or bitumen, coats the bottom of lakes and rivers and is very expensive and nearly impossible to clean up.
Enbridge Line 3 would carry, each day, 760,000 gallons of the dirtiest fuel on the planet, through some of the most sensitive lands and waters in northern Minnesota. This pipeline would threaten not only recreational use of the region, including fishing, but critical resources for Ojibwe survival –fish, wild rice, other medicinal and nutritional plants, ceremonial and burial grounds — to which the Ojibwe were guaranteed access by legally binding contracts, i.e. treaties signed with the U.S. government. And guess, what, that pipeline is designed to run right through the headwaters of the Mississippi: There is NO upstream from Enbridge Line 3.
And Enbridge has lots of friends helping to move things along more swiftly: Republican state Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington proposed a rider to the state’s omnibus jobs, energy and appropriations bill that would eliminate the environmental review process and allow Enbridge to start construction to start as early as July. Not surprisingly, the bill, with the Enbridge rider, passed the House on a partisan vote with all Republicans voting in favor. The Senate companion bill is authored by Sen. Jeremy Miller of Winona, whose job as deputy majority leader is to whip up support for Republican legislative initiatives. The fate of the bill lies in Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto power.
The black snake
For the Standing Rock Water Protectors, the Dakota Access Pipeline embodies the black snake prophesied by Lakota teachings as bringing widespread devastation when it went underground. Defeating the black snake has become the clarion call of Indigenous activists working to stop the threat of pipelines, including Enbridge Line 3.
We in Minnesota should not be lulled into complacency by a governor willing to wield the veto pen to stop Enbridge. We know that slicing off one head of the many-headed black snake will not stop this destruction of our lands and waters. We must remain vigilant and stand with Water Protectors everywhere to resist the black snake and the greedy corporations profiting from it.
With the Governor’s Fishing Opener just around the corner, it’s a good time to remind him that this long-awaited date on the calendar of every fishing enthusiast in Minnesota is under existential threat right now. But we also have to remember that, really, we all live downstream.
Colette Hyman has lived and worked along Minnesota rivers and lakes since 1979.
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