ST. PAUL — Members of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's group on environmental justice have resigned en masse in response to the recent approval of permits for the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project.
In a letter dated Monday, Nov. 16, the members said they "cannot continue to legitimize and provide cover for the MPCA’s war on black and brown people." Twelve members of the group, which according to an MPCA web page consists of 17 members, signed the letter addressed to MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop.
"The decision to approve the permit sends a clear message that (Gov. Tim Walz's administration) and the MPCA hold no regard for the well-being of Minnesotans or our relatives around the world, who depend on us to dramatically, rapidly, and justly transition our economies away from fossil fuels," the letter said.
The former members made public their resignation Tuesday, Nov. 17, through the Minnesota nonprofit environmental advocacy group Honor the Earth, of which activist and advisory group member Winona LaDuke is a part. The announcement comes less than a week after the MPCA and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources approved key construction permits for the project, which seeks to replace the aging oil pipeline that cuts across northern Minnesota and through the Fond du Lac Reservation.
Canadian energy company Enbridge, which owns and operates the pipeline, has yet to announce a construction start date, which is still subject to legal battles and the pending approval of other permits by federal regulators.
The departing group members said they worry that the project will negatively affect air and water quality and could serve as a vector for sexual violence against neighboring communities and tribal reservations by bringing in workers from out of the area. The MPCA called last week's water crossing permit issuance its "most stringent" to date.
But members who resigned from the group said their dispute with the MPCA predates last week's decision. Agency officials failed to consult group members on several previous decisions, they said in the letter, including "on the hiring of an outside facilitator" and the "the divvying of group members into work groups."
Some members were also treated dismissively, the letter said, and were "discouraged from sharing honest thoughts and opinions."
An MPCA spokesperson said Bishop has reached out to the group members privately and that the letter published Tuesday contained inaccuracies, but could not be reached for further comment by late Tuesday afternoon. In a statement, Bishop said she recognized the "disappointment of some advisory group members regarding the Line 3 decision."
"The MPCA will continue to eliminate and reverse environmental and health inequities and disparities in overburdened communities and ensure engagement remains at the forefront of our decision-making," she continued. "The MPCA remains committed to ensuring that every Minnesotan has healthy air, sustainable lands, clean water and a better climate."
It's not clear what the next steps for the resigning group members will be. In a phone call Tuesday, now-former member and North American Water Office co-founder Lea Foushee of Lake Elmo said that will depend in part on the MPCA's response to the resignation.
"We will certainly take our direction from those that are on the frontlines at White Earth and Red Lake," she said, referring to two tribal reservations in Minnesota near the proposed route for the pipeline.
According to the MPCA's website, the environmental justice group advises the MPCA commissioner on the "implementation of the agency's environmental justice framework, provides feedback on its effectiveness, and offer suggestions for future improvements." Environmental justice, per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is defined as "the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies."
Members of the group are chosen by the MPCA commissioner. Those who resigned are:
Anita Urvina Davis
Dania Marin Gavilan