Activists, lawmakers protest amendment to advance pipeline replacement

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ST. PAUL — Activists and a handful of Minnesota lawmakers say an amendment to a House energy and jobs bill would allow oil companies to sidestep public and environmental review of pipelines.

House Energy Chairman Pat Garofalo said an amendment to his energy bill would allow Canadian oil company Enbridge to replace Line 3, a decades-old pipeline, under an agreement with the federal government.

The amendment would allow the company to forego Public Utilities Commission review, a measure opponents worry would eliminate the public review process and allow the company to dodge alternative route evaluations.

Rep. Peggy Flanagan, D-St. Louis Park, said the provisions would be especially detrimental to the state's American Indian communities.

She compared the proposed pipeline to the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline in southern North Dakota.

A member of the White Earth Nation, Flanagan said the bill's language would mean

"Enbridge can just come on in and put their pipeline wherever they'd like to put it without consulting the public, without consulting tribes, without consulting Minnesotans."

Activists joined Flanagan and other lawmakers at the Minnesota Capitol Thursday, April 4 to protest the bill.

Drumming, singing and chanting echoed through the Capitol as activists gathered in front of the House chamber before representatives debated.

Among the activists was Nancy Davis-Ortiz with the Native Lives Matter Elder Council.

"There should be transparency of intent, total citizen input," Davis-Ortiz said during a news conference. "This bill takes away our voice and allows secrecy to rule. ... We all have the right to clean water, clean air and unpolluted land."

Garofalo called his bill's opposition "mindless, fact-free and led by science-deniers."

"The environmental extremists who are using the regulatory process to delay the decision on this are hurting Minnesota," Garofalo, a Republican from Farmington, told reporters. "They're hurting the economy, they're putting the environment at risk and, worst of all, they're delaying needed improvements for our economy in greater Minnesota."

Legislators who support Garofalo's amendment cited economic benefits and safety improvements compared to oil trains.

Rep. Dan Fabian, a Roseau Republican, said pipelines make up the largest portion of tax revenues of Kittson and Marshall counties in his district.

"If the Line 3 replacement doesn't take place, what's the plan, members, for covering that lost revenue?" he said during the House floor debate.

Despite the bill's mixed support in the House, Garofalo said Dayton has expressed support for the pipeline replacement.

The project is part of a larger House energy and jobs bill.

Among the highlights Garofalo identified in his bill were expansion of northwestern Minnesota company Digi-Key, investments in agriculture infrastructure and improving access to cleaner, more affordable energy.

He also included programs he said would "jump-start" the growth of workforce housing in rural communities.

The House debate on the bill continued into Thursday night.

House members approved Garofalo's Enbridge amendment 75-57.