By Andy Pearson, Midwest Tar Sands Coordinator, MN350

What’s going on right now with Line 3?

In a nutshell, it is being built because most of Minnesota’s mechanisms that should have stopped it failed. President Joe Biden could still stop it anytime he chooses, and it is very relevant to keep pressure on him to do so. Enbridge is about 60% done and drilling under rivers now. Most law enforcement in the region is acting as an extension of Enbridge. Thousands of people have stood on the frontlines or supported back at camps, and hundreds have taken arrests or citations in acts of nonviolent direct action to uphold treaty rights, raise awareness, and stop or slow construction. There are many camps along the line that have issued open invitations to allies to come stand with them. It is a big help to go whether or not you can risk arrest.

Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan bear the brunt of the responsibility for the pipeline being underway. They had pledged to stop Line 3 if elected (see the campaign lit) and it was a lie. In fact, roughly concurrent with that pledge, Tim was also promising construction unions that he would get the project done. It never should have even gotten that far — the state’s expert review during the regulatory process came back with an unequivocal “do not build this,” which the Public Utilities Commission unfortunately overrode in a very political and ultimately split decision that discarded most climate and treaty rights issues.

After that, it landed in Tim and Peggy’s laps, and should have been an easy no — many other states have stopped large fossil fuel projects, including pipelines, in the past few years by denying water permits. This is an area where the governor’s agencies have full discretion, and they take their direction from him. His Minnesota Pollution Control Agency instead catered to Enbridge, an unfortunate case of the regulator viewing the regulated more as a customer or client to serve rather than a potential threat to the public interest. This move by the MPCA caused 12 of the 17 members of that agency’s Environmental Justice Advisory Group to resign in protest, after which the EJAG collapsed.

Court challenges are just beginning. The first (challenging the PUC) brought another split decision, with one of the three judges agreeing with tribal nations and grassroots groups that the project’s approval was fatally flawed and recommending it be overturned, and the other two judges ultimately deferring to the judgment of state agencies, even though those same agencies had expressed that they were uncertain in their judgment and could benefit from a court’s review. That will be appealed with near certainty to the state Supreme Court, and other challenges are underway against Line 3’s water permits at the state and federal levels. None of these will produce a decision in time to stop active construction before it is expected to finish late this summer, however.

The grassroots groups and sovereign nations fighting Line 3 did ask various courts to put a stay or injunction in place that would have prevented most construction while the legal process played out, but across the board the courts tended to take the position that harm to construction workers by taking away their job prospects was real and important, while harm to Native people via construction impacts and infringed-upon treaty rights was less real and less important, a sad reflection of the power of short-term profit and the lack of respect for treaty rights in many parts of our legal system.

Which brings us to Biden. The president has at least two things he could do: revoke the project’s water permits through the Army Corps of Engineers, or revoke the Presidential Permit (which controls the US/Canada border crossing) through the State Dept. Either move is easily within his executive authority; the one that isn’t literally named “Presidential” says in plain language that it can be revoked for further study if new information comes to light that was not adequately considered when it was issued. It was issued under the Trump administration which did a “finding of no significant impact” for this tar sands pipeline rather than an Environmental Impact Statement, a see-no-evil move that ought to be laughed out of town by Democrats.

This issue is more or less on Gina McCarthy’s plate for the Biden administration; she’s a known Line 3 opponent (good!) but hasn’t moved on it yet so we know this decision is happening at a higher level. Any way of getting to Biden at this moment on this issue is useful — it is impossible to be too loud — and he has not reopened the White House comment line so many people have been emailing/writing while some have engaged in action in DC and others have caught him at speaking engagements/etc. It is also important that he hears from members of Congress on this issue; they do have office addresses to show up to and phone numbers to call; please do so.

Many people have engaged in powerful frontline action because it is one of the few things that feels like a true match to the moment we’re in — and we know that over the course of history, direct action can catalyze huge changes. Critical mass up north may shake Biden into action; it may make funders drop ties with Enbridge; it delays the company bit by bit as they work to build. It certainly poses a political challenge to the Walz administration. In some cases, it is a means to assert and affirm treaty protected rights with potentially long term legal benefit. Not all actions look the same and there are many camps along the line, all run by Native leaders who have been in this fight for a long time. You can see a helpful guide to known camps at Most camps have made calls for people to come north, and welcome all whether or not you personally feel like you can engage in action yourself. Taking on support roles like cooking, cleaning, building infrastructure, or helping with communications is fundamentally needed and frees up camp leaders for other tasks; also many actions have higher risk and lower risk roles to fill.

Should you get up north? Yes. Are we witnessing a colossal system failure here? Yes. Wouldn’t it be better if the agencies had listened / Walz had acted / the courts had stopped this? Yes. Is there power and value in standing with the frontlines right now? Very much yes — we lose when we stop showing up. Now is not the moment to sit on the sidelines or remain in the worry that there is not a place for us. This is a big movement and you are needed. Now is the time to show up. #StopLine3.