On July 5, 2017, a group of 13 fearless young people known as the “Youth Climate Intervenors” were granted full status as a formal intervening party in Minnesota's “contested case” permit process for Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 pipeline! What does that mean? Let us explain.
The MN Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is the state agency in charge of reviewing Enbridge's application for Line 3 and making the decisions to approve or deny the permit, and if necessary, to approve or change their proposed route. Organizations, governments, and individuals have the right to try and intervene in that permitting process if they want. When a case is "contested," the state assigns an administrative law judge to oversee the complex process.
For several years now, the only intervening parties in Minnesota’s Enbridge pipeline cases (Sandpiper and Line 3) have been environmental groups and tribal governments. Now, as resistance sparked by Standing Rock builds, regular people are also asking for the full rights of a stakeholder in the decision.
These courageous young people came together as a group of 13. They won a seat at the table to speak out against the project because they convinced the Judge that no other party can fully represent them: no one can speak for the youth, because the youth can speak for themselves.
“We are visitors to this land. As Native Americans, we say: when we visit a place, we must leave it the same as when it was given to us,” said Nolan Berglund, a high school sophomore of the Oglala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne Nations. “I’m fighting for climate justice so my grandchildren, and my grandchildren's grandchildren, can see the beauty that this extraordinary planet has to offer.”
"Indigenous peoples are dying because of poisoned and polluted water in our communities,” said Rose Whipple, a high school sophomore of the Isanti Dakota and Ho-Chunk Nations. “Our voice has been silenced ever since Columbus set foot on our land, building pipelines and finding ways to pollute our land without our consent, digging through ancestral burial grounds. It is time for our voice to be heard. We do not want this pipeline going through our lands! I will fight just as hard as my ancestors have fought for me.”
The Youth Climate Intervenors, with the support of climate justice organizations MN350 and PowerShift Network, filed their petition to intervene on May 12, 2017. At a hearing on May 15, eight of the 13 argued their case in front of the Administrative Law Judge, Ann O’Reilly. They each explained ways climate change would impact them - from the inability to cope with increased food prices, electricity bills, and costs of living, to the excessive dangers of severe heat waves for individuals with health conditions, to the disproportionate impacts on Indigenous people. They also spoke about their personal use of land and water bodies in the Line 3 corridor for hunting, fishing, recreation, spiritual practice, and enjoyment, and how the pipeline would threaten their ability to continue doing those things. Enbridge filed an objection to the petition, arguing that these youth are not personally impacted by the pipeline in unique ways, and have only “general concerns” that do not justify intervention. But their efforts to erase and silence the voices of these young people have been unsuccessful. On July 7th, Judge O’Reilly granted their petition to intervene, citing their testimony about “specific, individualized interests directly related to the Proposed Line 3” as the argument that won her over.
Judge O’Reilly rejected the petitions of 4 other individuals: Mysti Babineau, an enrolled member of Red Lake Nation; John Munter, of Minnesotans for Pipeline Cleanup; Wichahpi Otto, a Lakota small business owner; and Jean Ross, a resident of St. Paul.
So the current intervening parties include: White Earth Band of Ojibwe, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Red Lake Band of Ojibwe, Honor the Earth, Sierra Club, Friends of the Headwaters, and the Youth Climate Intervenors. Additional parties are intervening in support of Enbridge - Kennecott Exploration Company, Laborer’s District Council, United Association of Pipefitters, the MN Chamber of Commerce, and a group of Canadian Oil Producers (Enbridge's customers, aka the "Shippers").
A decision from Judge O’Reilly to grant or deny 6 outstanding petitions is expected soon: those of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe; Northern Water Alliance, a coalition of northern landowner groups and lake associations; Dawn Goodwin, a White Earth tribal member and traditional harvester; Don Dyrdal, a northern Minnesota landowner with the existing Enbridge mainline corridor on his property; Susan Kedzie, an organic farmer and ecologist from Bemidji; and Willis Mattison, a former Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Regional Director.
If Leech Lake is accepted, that will mean that all 5 directly impacted Ojibwe bands are intervening. A lot has changed since the Sandpiper proceedings, in which White Earth and Mille Lacs were the only active tribal governments.
As an intervening party, the Youth Climate Intervenors will have a number of rights and responsibilities in the State’s process that the general public doesn’t have. For example, they may submit oral and written testimony, call expert witnesses to the stand during the evidentiary hearings, cross-examine other parties’ witnesses, request information from other parties (including Enbridge) via discovery during trial preparation, file motions requesting changes to the process, etc. In exchange, they are required to attend hearings and be available to answer questions, fulfill discovery requests from other parties, conduct themselves in front of the judge with formal professionalism, and navigate complex procedural rules that only a small number of specialist attorneys are familiar with. Despite this, the Youth Climate Intervenors are representing themselves, stating “we are the most qualified to articulate and defend our rights, and describe Enbridge’s infringement upon them.”
The public comment period for the state’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) ends July 10th, and then the DOC will have to consider and respond to each comment and produce a final EIS this fall. Then the evidentiary hearings will begin.
At the end of this whole process, the PUC still gets to make whatever decision it wants, and they are not elected or accountable to the public in any way, except thru a lawsuit.
Nonetheless, we are grateful to the judge for letting these young people speak. The future generations are right here with us now, and they have things to say. Let’s listen together.