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'This is our moment': Summit highlights green energy before pipeline hearing

A large crowd filled the Rail River Folk School Tuesday afternoon for a “solutions summit,” where speakers discussed the planned Line 67 oil pipeline project, the oil industry in general, and offered more environmentally friendly alternatives. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 3
Brandy Toft, an air quality specialist for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, spoke Tuesday afternoon during a “solutions summit” at the Rail River Folk School. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 3
Erika Bailey-Johnson, Bemidji State University sustainability director, claps during a presentation Tuesday afternoon during a “solutions summit” at the Rail River Folk School. Bailey-Johnson was also one of the speakers. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 3

BEMIDJI—Before a march to Bemidji's Sanford Center to protest the planned Line 67 oil pipeline project, activists gathered at Rail River Folk School for a "solutions summit," where speakers denounced the project, the oil industry in general, and offered more environmentally friendly alternatives.

"This is our moment, ya'll, you figure that out?" noted environmental and American Indian activist Winona LaDuke told a packed crowd at the folk school as a pair of men unfurled a "cut off the head of the black snake" banner in front of her. "This is this moment in time where our ancestors said we'd have a choice between two paths: one was well-worn, but it was scorched. The other was not well-worn and it was green. Our ancestors, a long time ago, they said it would be our choice upon which path to embark...That's exactly where we are here at the headwaters of the Mississippi."

Line 67—also called the "Alberta Clipper" pipeline—already transports hundreds of thousands of barrels worth of oil from Hardisty, Alta., in Canada to Superior, Wis., and cuts through North Dakota and northern Minnesota. Canadian energy company Enbridge owns the pipeline and wants to pump more oil through it, but needs the state department to sign off on the plan beforehand. Activists from across Minnesota and the Dakotas descended on Bemidji on Tuesday to sound off on the plans at a state department public comment meeting, which they prepared for at Rail River.

Several speakers at the folk school Tuesday held up solar energy as a more economically feasible and efficient alternative to oil-based energy.

Citing data from the Environmental Protection Agency, Brandy Toft, an air quality specialist for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, said environmental regulation and enforcement have dropped pollution 65 percent since 1980, nationwide.

"That's fantastic, but when you compare that to the naysayers who say that environmental controls take away jobs, how do you explain the 153 percent gross domestic product increase?" Toft asked rhetorically, pointing to an EPA graphic showing as much. "How do you tell me there's no jobs in being protective of the environment?"

LaDuke compared economic dependence on oil to a heroin addiction, and said oil production and profits are stagnating. She said the county needs to move to a "post-fossil fuel economy" and drew a line from the pipeline to new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil CEO whose new job includes review of the Line 67 project.

"We're all here to see Rex," LaDuke said.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

(218) 333-9798
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