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State regulators fail to hold Enbridge accountable for Line 3 promises

The pipeline being built is a larger pipeline along a new route. That’s no replacement project. (You replace a lightbulb with another lightbulb, not a floodlight.)

Line 3 approved route
Line 3 approved route

We as a state and nation are jaded about the many ways that corporations bend the truth and break promises, and their general flimflammery.

Sometimes lives are at stake. Decades ago, cigarette companies used corporate-bought science to try to  raise doubts about  smoking’s cancer risks. More recently, Boeing concealed information about flaws in its 737 Max plane.

Sometimes, it’s about marketing. Naked Juice claimed that its juices were all natural. It had to pull the labeling after a legal challenge. Dominion Energy used deceptive advertising for its proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, exaggerating job creation.

Closer to home, U.S. Steel’s Minntac mine has been polluting the waters near its Northern Minnesota operations for decades. It promises fixes, changes its plans to buy time, and continues to violate water quality standards.

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And then we come to Enbridge Line 3, a tale of two different pipelines, the one promised to Minnesotans and the one being delivered.

State regulators should have been more suspicious, but they fell for it again.

Enbridge promised a “replacement project” for the old and failing Line 3, a marketing ploy to garner public support. The pipeline being built is a larger pipeline along a new route. That’s no replacement project. (You replace a lightbulb with another lightbulb, not a floodlight.)

Enbridge, a Canadian oil giant, promised Line 3 would be a Minnesota job generator. Enbridge promised Line 3 would create 8,600 jobs, 75 percent of them local. That would include 4,200 union construction jobs, half to be filled locally. There would be a two-year construction season.

That was a big selling point with Minnesota regulators.

The pipeline being delivered will be finished within one construction season, meaning the temporary jobs got even more temporary. According to Enbridge’s initial jobs report, Minnesotans were only 33 percent of the Line 3 workforce during the last quarter of 2020, and they worked only 28 percent of total hours.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission didn’t build sanctions into Enbridge’s permits if it failed to meet its job promises, a big mistake. The PUC commissioners haven’t said a word publicly about whether the jobs data concerns them.

During Line 3 hearings, Enbridge dismissed fears expressed by Indigenous communities that pipeline construction would bring those drug and sex trafficking to the area.

Enbridge said it had a plan. The plan was weak. The PUC bought the promise.

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We now know at least two of the seven men arrested last month in a northern Minnesota human trafficking sting worked on Line 3. One was charged with soliciting sex with a minor. We know that man learned about the sex-trolling website through on–the-job rumors, meaning this wasn’t an isolated incident.

Brett Benson
Brett Benson
We know from documents filed with the PUC that VIP, a women’s shelter in Thief River Falls, has experienced “an increase in calls and need for services,” since Line 3 construction began, including services to several victims who were assaulted by Line 3 workers.

VIP also has reported an increase in sexual harassment of women and girls in town.

The PUC didn’t require public reporting of any drug or sex-related crimes, so neither the commission nor the public know the extent of the problem. The PUC commissioners who approved the project have yet to speak publicly on the arrests.

Enbridge needs to be held accountable for its promises. With sex trafficking, lives are at stake.

We shouldn’t be surprised that a bottom-line company would use slick PR, make big promises, and try to avoid accountability. We should, however, expect more from our regulators and law enforcement to hold them accountable.

Brett Benson is the communications director for the climate justice organization MN350, which is affiliated with the global movement.

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