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OTHER VIEWS: Comments ending; pipeline fight accelerating

There's plenty of opposition to Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project across northern Minnesota. Impassioned opposition. Ready-to-take-a-stand opposition. The sort of opposition seen last year over the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota perhaps.

That's even though the Line 3 replacement project, really, is just an infrastructure upgrade, is responsibly replacing an aging pipe at the end of its life, isn't increasing any environmental threat, wouldn't cross any Native American reservations, would support directly and indirectly 8,600 jobs over two years of construction and have a total output impact on northern Minnesota of more than $2 billion, and is meticulously following and complying with all review and permitting rules and regulations as detailed in state and federal law.

Opponents had until the end of Monday to officially comment on the project's environmental-review document. The draft environmental impact statement is posted at mn.gov/commerce/energyfacilities/line3. The Minnesota Commerce Department has been taking comments for two months already.

With Enbridge hoping to have oil moving in its new Line 3 by 2019, all sides in this — Enbridge, government entities, law enforcement, those opposed, and others — can dedicate themselves now to civility, nonviolence, and respect. And they can double down on those goals if the process, conducted fairly and in accordance with statutes, doesn't come out as they hoped.

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem where we're heading.

"If that permit is issued (to allow the pipeline-replacement project), you're going to have problems," Winona LaDuke, executive director of the Native American activist group Honor the Earth, said in an interview last week with the News Tribune Opinion page.

The White Earth tribal member was even more ominous-sounding before one of 22 public meetings, several of which were held in the Bemidji area, recently hosted by state regulators for Line 3.

"If that permit is issued, you can be sure you will have Standing Rock in Minnesota," LaDuke said, according to a Minnesota Public Radio report last week. "We've been very clear with the state representatives and the governor of Minnesota that if they approve this line, there will be tens of thousands of people in Minnesota."

Opponents' concerns are almost as many as the protesters who may descend on our state — and may be impossible to address to head off a crush of protest.

They want environmental and other reviews that go well beyond what state and federal laws require.

They want landowners to decide which sections of old pipe get removed. Enbridge plans to leave the old pipe in the ground, "deactivated in place." Removing all the old pipe would cost $1.28 billion, according to the environmental review. Cleaning out and closing off the old pipe would cost a far-more-reasonable $85 million. Also, as stated in the environmental review, removing the old pipe isn't a good idea because it would risk damaging other nearby pipelines.

But leaving it in the ground is akin to polluting, opponents argue.

"I was taught in kindergarten, 'clean up your own mess,'" Natalie Cook, an associate organizer in Minneapolis for the Sierra Club, said to the Opinion page.

"Enbridge likes to do whatever is fastest, easiest and cheapest," said James Hietala, who owns property in Warba that's crossed by Line 3. "It isn't their land. They never talk about what I want. ... I'm this little guy here. They're big with all the rights."

Opponents also want Enbridge to consider alternatives to pipelines for moving oil. And, in a bigger-picture way, they want alternatives to oil to be more seriously considered.

In addition, the likely new route for Line 3 "punches through the heart of our wild rice territories," LaDuke said. "This is the heart of our people: the wild rice. ...

"(Minnesota is) a pass-through state; this is not trying to get our oil someplace else," LaDuke further said. "And this isn't the 'deep north.' That's what we refer to North Dakota as, the 'deep north.' There's a lot of racism. This is not the same state. This is a state where people close down roads when juries acquit police officers. ... I want a system that works. I want a government that works. I don't want to spend my time fighting the government. I want to feel that the government is looking out for me."

But the government also has a responsibility to look out for and to help assure that our nation's energy needs are being met.

This pipeline replacement is needed to continue doing that, Enbridge officials have said. It's needed, too, for the safety of Minnesotans and the environment. And the line would be restored to its original volume. Line 3 has gotten so bad it has been running at about half its capacity since 2008.

The debate will be lively. Already is. But it doesn't have to deteriorate into the protester-police clashes and other ugliness witnessed by the world last year in North Dakota. All sides can commit to that now.

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