Old as dirt and held together with duct tape, my friend Joey’s old Chevy defied time with every mile it managed to travel past 250,000. When an oil leak damaged the engine beyond repair, I figured he would move on to a new vehicle with air conditioning and perhaps a functioning radio. Joey, ever the tenacious mechanic, decided instead to invest time and money into a full engine replacement. His treasure went a few more miles before the whole thing went kaput.
Why restore something that’s already past its time? It’s clearly a shortsighted decision, but at least Joey’s attachment to the past didn’t lead to large-scale environmental damage. Gov. Tim Walz, on the other hand, showed toxic stubbornness against the future when his administration approved the new Enbridge Line 3 in northern Minnesota to replace a pipeline in great disrepair.
Walz could have taken this opportunity to double down on clean energy investments as the old pipeline reaches its final days, but instead he supported a tar sands project that’s already doomed for obsolescence.
A dying industry
Tar sands are a dying industry. Oil companies were already divesting from the expensive extraction process prior to the coronavirus pandemic, and the low cost of oil since March 2020 has only sped up its demise. A pipeline destined for bankruptcy is not a good deal for our state.
Minnesota’s own Department of Commerce made this point in its review of the project, which concluded that a replacement pipeline wasn’t in our best interest because the state has no demonstrated need for the oil. The tar sands will cut a destructive path through Minnesota’s wetlands and waterways only to be sent to overseas oil markets.
Replacing Line 3 makes about as much sense for Minnesotans as an engine replacement did for Joey. So what happens if we just let them build it anyway? Enbridge is willing to pay for it, right? Perhaps in its initial costs, but we will be the ones dealing with the social costs of the project’s carbon emissions, estimated at $287 billion through 2050. Leaks are also catastrophic for tar sands pipelines like Line 3, as the denser tar sands sink in water, preventing easy cleanup.
Treaty rights violated
There is a much larger cost than any carbon estimate can ever encapsulate as well. The new Line 3 pipeline violates treaty rights of the Anishinaabeg by imperiling natural and cultural resources, especially wild rice, a sacred staple in their diet. Anishinaabe peoples have the treaty-protected right to access and harvest these resources. A pipeline that disrupts these rights is a pipeline in violation of U.S. treaties. We must be better than this.
Despite the downsides, there is one aspect of the pipeline that’s beneficial to Minnesota. Line 3 construction will hire more than 4,000 workers in communities sorely in need of more economic opportunity. I do not want to diminish the economic hardships of these communities by claiming the jobs aren’t worth it. People need a way to pay the bills, and the coronavirus pandemic has only made this harder. However, it shouldn’t have been pipeline jobs or bust in the first place.
Walz promised us climate leadership that would expand safe, long-term clean energy jobs throughout Minnesota. Instead, the best he’s offered rural communities are temporary pipeline jobs with worker fatality rates four times higher than the average in other industries. It’s hardly a win when you compare it to the opportunities possible with more sustained investment.
Of course there are aspects of Walz’s climate promises that he’s followed through on, but none really measures up to his betrayal regarding Line 3. The pipeline will make it impossible to meet the state’s emission reduction goals, even if we were to turn off all electricity and stop driving. Seven in 10 Minnesotans support a transition to 100% renewable energy, but our elected officials act as if we are still in the theoretical planning phase of the transition. We need to move now, and reinvesting in fossil fuels is a step in the wrong direction.
Walz held on to the past even when a better, cleaner future beckoned. Obviously the transition to clean energy will be more complicated than scrapping an old truck, but we don’t have a choice if we want a livable planet in several decades. Once upon a time Walz seemed to understand this climate urgency, but he irrevocably let us down. We surely deserved better, but without the climate leader we were once promised, it’s now up to us to take up the fight.
Caroline Frischmon earned her B.S. in bioproducts and biosystems engineering at the University of Minnesota last fall, where she studied bio-based energy solutions to overcome climate change.
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