Photo Credits: Christy Newell
Thursday afternoon April 3rd, 300 protesters from across the Great Lakes region from multiple generations, marched with high spirits through the final fits of winter, to a contested case hearing, holding Enbridge on trial to re-examine the need to expand tar sands infrastructure, specifically Line 67, the Alberta Clipper, which would transport 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day across MN to Lake Superior. Young people brought their creative energy with chanting, drumming, and a pipeline puppet masquerade, which brought to life the speeches from organizers and respected community leaders at the send-off from Kellogg Park.
The hearing, held at the St. Paul Public Utilities Commission, was inundated with people sharing their concerns with the decision of expansion, in opposition and support. Indigenous rights activists brought up treaty rights issues and the threat to their culture and livelihoods from pollution, while other residents from the Great Lakes region called out the risk to health and natural resources from tar sands oil spills. Climate activists emphasized that expansion of tar sands infrastructure would lock-in extraction and burning of the most carbon intensive fuel source. On the side supporting expansion, dozens of union members shared concerns about job creation and the need to secure reliable oil. One stressed the need to continue tar sands development to spare his children the uncertainty that would come with an oil recession (MPR).
While only 50 of 150 people against the expansion got to testify, youth took the lead. The first to testify was a recent graduate of a Northfield high school, Cliff Martin, expressing his respect for unions: “No job is worth death. No man ought to be employed by the destruction of his brothers and sisters, no human being should make a living off sacrificing the living earth that sustains all of us.” Natalie Hoidal from the University of Minnesota Morris spoke about climate scientists’ predictions of the future: “It’s pretty scary to think that we have to deal with these problems. But, what’s more scary is that we know what we need to do and it’s not being done. We are talking about extracting the dirtiest oil on the planet and burning it into the atmosphere.” In addition to her testimony, she delivered 50 additional written comments by young people from her college who could not be there. Hundreds of written comments have been delivered to the administrative law judge already, likely to be followed by many more, between now and April 14th.
Many activist groups coordinated to bring visibility to the pipeline’s expansion and to make sure the voices of impacted people were heard. Honor the Earth, MN350, and the Sierra Club, played a large role and were joined on Thursday by the MICATS, Minnesota Inter-Faith Power and Light, and others. Andy Pearson, MN350 Midwest Tar Sands Coordinator, who spearheaded the event, pointed out that a critical part of what made the event possible was the dedicated teams of young people across the state. Macalester students planned logistics, created the pipeline puppets, secured a bus load of students to attend the rally, and brought 80 additional written comments. Other groups involved were the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, with young people from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and Morris, as well as Duluth; MN350 Divestment, from the University of Minnesota and Gustavus Adolphus College; the Minnesota Youth Environmental Network; Youth Environmental Activists of MN (a program of the Will Steger Foundation); Grand Aspirations; and XL Dissent. As this decision is part of a much larger transition from status quo to healthier and more just systems, it is exciting to see so many young people at the forefront, calling for attention to their future now.