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The Enbridge Pipeline 3 Project endangers public health

Bruce D. Snyder
Bruce D. Snyder

Last September I presented testimony before the PUC administrative law judge opposing approval of Enbridge Replacement Pipeline 3 (ERP3). As a physician and chair of Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate my concerns relate to the damaging effects that climate change and fossil fuel related pollution are having on the health of Minnesotans. My testimony reflected the extreme concern of health professionals and health care organizations in Minnesota and around the world regarding the health consequences of environmental destruction due to continued massive consumption of fossil fuels. Medical and scientific authorities have termed climate change “potentially catastrophic for human survival.” And “The effects of climate change are being felt today, and future projections represent an unacceptably high and potentially catastrophic risk to human health,” according to the Lancet Commission report.

It is reasonable to ask why, given all the pipelines lacing our state and country, this project should be denied. There are number of reasons, some related specifically to Minnesota and some with impacts to distant communities.

1. The Alberta Tar Sands operation, which will supply the product transported by ERP3, is one of the most prolific sources of air pollution in North America. Approval of this project will expand Tar Sands extraction operations, increasing the toll of cardiopulmonary disease, stroke and cognitive decline, infant mortality, and cancers related to air and water pollution in Canada and the northern tier of states.

2. Fossil fuel pollution (microparticulates, ozone, etc.) is a significant contributor to increased health care costs in Minnesota. It has been shown that petroleum products (gasoline, diesel) are responsible for up to half of all toxic airborne microparticulates released in urban areas. Rather than transporting more fossil fuels, we should be accelerating efforts to reduce their use. 

3. Tar sands oil extraction and processing generates considerably more pollution (greenhouse gases, toxics) than oil from other sources. Large amounts of toxic contaminants are released into the air and waters near tar sands operations, causing illnesses in persons living in the vicinity and in those reliant on water sources contaminated by the mining operations. Expanding exports from the Alberta Tar Sands will contribute to this problem — which prompts the question: Do we have a responsibility to protect others from the consequences of projects that may be profitable for some of us?

4. The large amounts of CO2 from the Alberta Tar Sands is a contributing factor in the warming of Minnesota’s climate, which in turn impacts our health. Rapid escalation of climate extremes (historic rains, floods) increases the risks of water borne infections and worsens dampness and mold that trigger more allergies and respiratory disorders.   Damages to homes and businesses trigger stress and depression. The lengthening of our warmer wetter seasons has led to more allergies, asthma and respiratory disorders and increased toxic algae blooms in our lakes. Milder, shorter winters have increased the populations of disease carrying insects; Lyme disease cases are increasing sharply in Minnesota. Stopping this project would be a significant step toward gaining control of global warming. At some point, someone, somewhere must take the lead and say “no” to more carbon pollution. 

5. Pipeline spills occur with alarming regularity, in some cases with massive releases of toxic material into surface and ground waters. Toxic contamination has health consequences, particularly for pregnant women and the very young. The protection of our safe water supplies should be a top priority. 

6. Those most vulnerable to the consequences of our changing climate and fossil fuel related pollution are the poor, the ill, the elderly and the very young. Approval of this pipeline project is an injustice to these groups of people and presents important ethical concerns. Do regulators and policy makers recognize the magnitude of their responsibility for the well-being of future generations?

It is in the best interests of Minnesotans that this project not be approved.

Bruce D. Snyder M.D., FAAN, is chair of Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate, clinical professor of neurology at University of Minnesota Medical School, and former chair of HealthPartners Department of Neurology.


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