BEMIDJI -- Progressive members of Congress stood in the First City on the Mississippi Friday calling on President Joe Biden to halt construction of Enbridge's Line 3 replacement project.
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, representative of Minnesota's Fifth District, joined on the South Shore of Lake Bemidji by Indigenous leaders and fellow House members. Joining Omar for the event were Democratic Reps.Cori Bush, D-Mo., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rashida Tlaib, Mich.
The group arrived on the South Shore after conducting a roundtable in Bemidji's Sanford Center with several opponents of Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project. Recently, company officials said the work on Line 3 is more than 90% finished.
"A lot of people say time has run out," Omar said. "That this is 90% finished. But the resilient water protectors and the Native tribes that have welcomed us into their spaces tell us time never runs out on fighting for what is right."
The visit to Bemidji came a day after members of the progressive "Squad" held a press conference in Minneapolis, where they also called on Biden to revoke the Line 3 permits. Before the stops in Minnesota, a letter was sent to the White House, which included signatures from the four Congresswomen and 13 other representatives, as well as several state legislators.
The letter, sent Aug. 30, stated "when considering the extent of environmental, cultural and social impacts on Indigenous people associated with Line 3 construction and its long-term climate impacts, we believe the federal government has a responsibility to uphold treaties and engage with Tribal nations on a government-to-government level."
On Saturday, Omar reiterated her commitment to the Line 3 issue after speaking with the local opponents.
"It's been a really revealing and heartbreaking conversation," Omar said. "We learned the ways in which treaty rights have been disregarded. We learned the ways in which intimidation has taken place. We learned the ways in which the Line 3 pipeline will disrupt the future of tribal communities that it will impact.
"It is unconscionable for us to see zero action being taken by our governor and president in stopping this pipeline. None of our communities that have been engaged in this battle want to come back and say 'I told you so' after spills take place and our water is polluted."
Construction on Line 3 started in late 2020 and completion is expected by the fourth quarter of this year. Enbridge officials say restoration and cleanup operations will then be conducted in 2022.
The new infrastructure will replace the original Line 3, which was installed in the 1960s. The existing pipeline is now operating at half capacity because of its age and condition.
To replace it, Enbridge is investing $2.9 billion for the new Line 3, which is more than 1,000 miles long and extends from Edmonton, Alberta, to Superior, Wis. where a terminal is located. Once finished, it will carry an average of 760,000 barrels of oil per day.
The portion going through Minnesota is 337 miles and takes an alternate route than the original pipeline. Both the existing and replacement pipes take a route from Canada, through North Dakota to a terminal in Clearbrook.
From there, the existing pipeline takes a direct path east, going through Leech Lake Nation. The new route, however, will go south from Clearbrook, to the border of Hubbard and Wadena Counties, and from there go east to Wisconsin.
Work on the project started after six years of Enbridge going through the Minnesota regulatory process. During the regulatory process, and continuing into construction, opponents of the pipeline project have continually protested Line 3, arguing that potential spills could damage Minnesota waters and that it will accelerate climate change.
On Aug. 25, more than 1,000 protestors gathered in front of the Minnesota Capitol, demanding Gov. Tim Walz and Biden halt Line 3. Just a week earlier, hundreds marched through the city of Duluth as part of the same cause.
'More than allies'
In her comments Saturday, Pressley said the group of Congress members stood in solidarity with the Line 3 opponents.
"We're here to be more than allies," Pressley said. "We're here to be intentional accomplices and conspirators in the work of justice. To affirm Native sovereign rights, tribal rights and treaties. Contracts that have been broken and violated. A people that have been violated. Who have experienced undue brutality, simply for asking this nation to honor its promise."
Bush said during the event that impacts of Line 3 aren't limited to those in Minnesota.
"We should be standing together," Bush said. "Because if I don't have water, you don't have water. If they don't have water, another group doesn't have water. Your struggle is our struggle."
Climate change was also referenced several times during Saturday's speeches.
"I think it's really important that President Biden understands that this decision around being silent is devastating these communities," Tlaib said. "This is not only going to impact our climate, but also our access to clean drinking water."
"Climate change is no longer deniable," said Red Lake Tribal Secretary Samuel Strong. "Climate change is impacting us on a daily basis. You see it with the hurricanes. There was a time this summer where you couldn't see the sun, our children couldn't go outside and play. Line 3 expansion project will create emissions equivalent to 50 coal-fired power plants. We are asking our government to take action that will protect our children and those generations to come. Half measures will no longer do us well."
Friday and Saturday's events were met with criticism by Republican members of Minnesota's Congressional Delegation. In a letter signed by Reps. Tom Emmer, Michelle Fischbach and Pete Stauber, GOP officials wrote "even after a litany of court decisions affirming the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement project and even with construction more than 90% complete, the misguided push to stop the pipeline using any means possible continues.
"They say it's about the impacts of the pipeline on Indigenous people, but they have not met with the many Native American contractors who are currently on-site assembling the pipeline," the representatives stated. "They say it's about tribal sovereignty, but they fail to note the agreement reached with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. They say it's about the people, but have not engaged with the cities, counties and local businesses that have already benefited from the project."
Enbridge also issued a response to the events on Friday and Saturday, stating "Line 3 does not violate treaty rights. The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently concluded, 'the commission reasonably selected a route for the replacement pipeline based upon the respect for tribal sovereignty, while minimizing environmental impacts."
Enbridge's statement went on to note that the "climate change claims regarding Line 3 are unfounded. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission addressed climate change in their decision granting Line 3 its certificate of need. They concluded that emissions from the ultimate consumption of oil transported by Line 3 do not result from the replaced pipeline, but instead from the continued demand for crude oil to produce refined products used by consumers."
The company also stated the project is being built "under the supervision of tribal monitors" who "ensure that important cultural resources are protected."
Following the event at the South Shore, the four Congresswomen and other officials went to another meeting regarding Line 3 near the Mississippi River Headwaters.