Youth Reflection: Testifying Against the Expansion of Tar Sands Pipelines in MN

Transition NorthfieldOn Thursday, April 3rd, the public utilities office in Saint Paul served as a space for people to speak in opposition or in support of expansion to the Alberta clipper pipeline. The oil traveling through the Alberta Clipper comes from tar sands operations, said to be “the dirtiest form of oil on this planet” by 350.org.  This expansion would mean an increase of 5 billion gallons per year coming through this pipeline.  From my perspective, this expansion is not in the best interest of people and the planet, but when I was first presented with this opportunity to testify, I rejected it. The thought of speaking my mind in front of a powerful group of adults was terrifying, and that fear was enough to trump my commitment to act as an empowered young person and stand up for what I believe. However, I was lucky because Natalie Cook, the coordinator of the Youth Environmental Activists of Minnesota (YEA! MN) and the one who had asked me to testify in the first place, encouraged me to reconsider. I ended up deciding that there was no logical reason for me not to testify. If I don’t want this pipeline expansion to happen, then I must add my voice to the opposition.

Once I knew that I was going to testify, I had to figure out what I wanted to say. Using my own background knowledge of the situation and my feelings about this extreme extraction process, as well as reading through the fact sheets provided by the MN350 organization, I developed my testimony. Quite simply, I stated that it is wrong to take an action that puts people’s food, water, and air in danger in the name of corporate profit. I talked about the cancer, asthma, behavioral problems, and numerous other health issues that are found in highly elevated rates around and downstream of tar sands operations. I referenced the spill in Kalamazoo from 2010 to express the reality that pipelines break, it’s only a matter of when. I kept it simple, expecting that the people who testified before me would have already hammered out most if the talking points. As it turned out, I was the only the second person to testify in opposition of the expansion. This took me by surprise, but was probably for the best because it offered less time for my nerves to kick in.

My name was called, I stepped up to the microphone, and I delivered my testimony. It was as simple as that. It was pretty cool to receive a chunk of time that I had complete control over, where I could say whatever I wanted to the suit-and-tie people from Enbridge and from the public utilities office. I am extremely grateful that I live in a time and place where I am not only allowed, but encouraged to share my thoughts on important public issues. However, to quote the testimony of my friend Cliff, who was the very first person to testify that evening, “when will the people be in control of their energy future, instead of just being consulted about it?”. While it is so important to be grateful for having the privilege of sharing our thoughts in this hearing, it is also necessary to see the flaws in a system that goes through the motions of being democratic and asking for public opinion, but ultimately is still only in the hands of those with power.

Helen is a leader in Northfield Transition Youth and joined the YEA! MN delegation at the 2013 Power Shift youth climate summit last fall. A core program of the Will Steger Foundation, YEA! MN supports a network of high school environmental clubs working together across the Twin Cities Metro to empower student leadership on climate change solutions, facilitate shared skills and strategies, and take coordinated action at home, at school, and in the wider community.

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