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The Department of State held a Public Hearing in Bemidji last week.  I attended along with hundreds of others.  I heard there were Enbridge representatives present, though I wasn’t aware of any.  The majority of those present were in opposition to the approval of a border crossing for Line 67 (previously called the Alberta Clipper).

Earlier in the afternoon, dozens of people met at Rail River Folk School where there were several speakers including Brandy Toft, Lindsey Ketchel, Jason Edens, Erica Bailey-Johnson, and Winona LaDuke.  The final speaker – apparently ad hoc? – was Marty Cabenais but I was astonished to see him on stage as I’d met him the previous night but had no idea he was a pipeline guy (or I’m sure we’d have chatted away quite a bit more – mostly I was cooing over his new grandchild).  I found out later that he’s also my mailman.  Small world in rural parts!

While I knew Winona was going to speak – really wish I’d heard her and hope there is a link to hear the earlier talks – I arrived just in time to hear a portion of Marty’s sharing.  It was really wonderful to see the large group of people who braved the cold to walk from Rail River to Sanford Center – a 2 mile walk in blustery cold winter winds.  Sylvia and I drove to Sanford hoping to be able to walk back to meet the group and return to Sanford with them but we realized it was quite cold and we’d be walking into the wind.  We decided to drive to meet the group and see if there were any people who needed a ride to finish their journey.  We didn’t get any takers and we were amazed to see how quickly they made their way on this route.  I was excited to be able to film them coming into Sanford.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufR-qTMZeH8

There were some chants and callbacks along the march to the event and on arrival. But the real treat was seeing the jingle dress dancers and hearing the singing and drumming. Varied spontaneous chants began from a number of people with everyone joining in as we caught the pattern. We were quite cold so headed inside to see the Hearing Room.  There were a few dozen people from Duluth/Grand Rapids and close to or over 100 from The Cities there to speak their concern regarding this pipeline.

The format of the meeting was posters with representatives to answer questions which really limited the information sharing to a few people at a time with much repetition.  There was no overall communication where all participants would hear the same information.  There were a few tables over which the presenter could show papers or the Environmental Impact Study while discussing questions but most stations were simply a standing place with a poster on an easel.  There was a video presentation with a couple dozen chairs and about 12-15 round tables with chairs for people to gather and relax.  You had to wander the room and figure out who could answer what questions by looking at the poster they stood adjacent to.  Oh, and some of the representatives are actually consultants.  Security from the Department of State in DC was also flown in for this hearing.

The event had no real format other than citizens milling about seeking answers.  The only announcements were when the event was opened and when it ended.  There were displays by the people in opposition to Line 67.  There was a Native circle dance, there was a film-crew recording, several news people doing interviews and filming the crowd.  Many felt like the State Dept people were uninformed/evasive/overly positive about pipelines.  I had some disturbing experiences with a couple reps – VERY UNINFORMED & VERY DEFENSIVE – but also some good interactions.

The attorney representing on the Presidential decree seemed to have a VERY limited understanding of the issue.  She looked at me like I had two heads when I asked about the legality of the switcharoo. http://www.oilandgas360.com/alberta-clipper-pipeline-faces-opposition-keystone-xl-vote/ https://insideclimatenews.org/news/20140917/state-department-draws-fire-allowing-tar-sands-pipeline-detour   When I explained that this was the Line 3 border crossing which was used to get line 67 crude across the border prior to getting approval for its own border crossing, she said she had no idea what I was talking about and backed away from me like I was a witch or goblin, like she was so uncomfortable as to not want to be in my presence. She truly looked frightened. It was so over the top I struggled to comprehend her fear.  She said she didn’t like the way the conversation was going and she didn’t want to talk with me any longer.  I asked if, as the attorney in the room, she might have an understanding of the legality of the happenings upon which this whole event is based and she said she “only knows about the Presidential Permit”.  Then she basically was able to read the poster.  [I had several people share with me that they had a similar experience with her where she had no answers and was very defensive.]  I decided to cut bait and find a better informed and more willing representative.  I found a woman who seemed to have a level of authority in the room and she directed me to the Engineer whose company had written the Supplemental Environmental Impact Study (SEIS) for the border crossing.

I spent quite a bit of time with the Civil Engineer and consultant company Project Manager, Fred Carey, from Potomac-Hudson Engineering, Inc.  He was being challenged by three people when I arrived.  And I was piling on.  He got pretty defensive but described himself as “objective”.  I think he was in a really tough situation but stayed pretty calm and definitely answered questions, though would not answer our questions about his personal beliefs on the pipeline.  Fred was able to review the SEIS and direct us to areas on which we had questions.  The big question was how does Enbridge monitor areas that are remote and inaccessible.  There was not a real confident answer to this question.  When questioned whether he’d walked the pipeline, whether he’d been to any of the remote areas, he agreed he’d not.  It was stated that, without seeing the property where this pipeline runs, there is no way he can give an accurate appraisal of the effect it will have on the environment.

Among multiple participants, we all agreed he was probably the best person we’d found that night that was willing to try to answer questions.  About the only person really.  Mary Hassell – how’s that for a name? – is the State Department Project Manager for this work and she was the only other person who seemed willing and capable of answering questions.  She came across also as nervous.  It was really strange to see so many people exhibiting fear and pleading ignorance in this Public Hearing which you would assume to be filled with confident, well-spoken, forthright, well-informed representatives from the US Department of State.  I mean, they flew in dozens of people it seemed.  And there was a massive security presence – always a cop or USDoS officer in view. But this didn’t appear to quell fear in the visiting representatives.

I did meet John Enger from MPR News – he was preparing to talk with Winona LaDuke and I asked who he was with as he had a large microphone in his hand.  Told him I LOVE MPR and would listen for him now that I had a face with the name.  Another older woman (Emily) also came up about the same time to greet Winona and when she realized we were both in line, she started to walk away but I told her to stay – she could be after John.  So when Winona freed up, Joe grabbed her for an interview.  Emily and I chatted and I found out that she actually lived in Noblesville for 2 months when her husband was on a 2-year stint as the Director of Connor Prairie.  Small world!  I had shared with her a neat story of Winona that she really loved. As Winona wrapped up with Joe, I called to her so Emily could say hello and I walked on to my next adventure.  I ran into Winona later and she asked me to tell her the story too.  Pretty exciting for this Groupie!

Had an unexpected encounter that was a real joy. After seeing her three times and thinking, “I know this girl” (but feeling unsure as she was not with the normal associates I see her with)… I was elated when Brandy Toft came up and gave me a hug.  I asked where her partner was and she reported that she was here on official business – turns out she is a Leech Lake Environmental Advisor.  [As you highly observant folks will remember from above, she was one of the Rail River speakers.  I was doubly sorry to have arrived late.]  It was a great joy to introduce her to Sylvia who was sure Brandy would be a great contact for Sadie, her daughter who is studying oil issues and will be stateside soon.

All-in-all, I felt a vibe of not really seeing how the public viewpoint was really going to matter much.  I think there was a feeling by many that this was more a dog-and-pony show than anything that will truly be considered and possibly make a difference.  But it was good to feel the solidarity of the crowd, participate in the shout-outs and see some media presence.  It was good to see so many people participating in civic responsibility.  I did ask every representative with whom I spoke that night, “What does all this matter really? If 90% of us all say we’re in opposition, will it truly change anything?” and what I got in response was a lot of cheerleading for the process.  “This is the most exciting part of our work.” “It’s so important to have citizen input.”  “There will be a response to every one of the public comments.” [I found out later it’s every “unique” comment.  So only every topic will be addressed, not every comment.]  No one would commit to whether or not the public comments would really make a difference in the decision made by the US Department of State.

Here are several links regarding the event:

http://www.honorearth.org/bemidjiclipper

News Coverage of the event:

http://www.mprnews.org/story/2017/03/08/hundreds-protest-proposed-alberta-clipper-oil-expansion

http://www.bemidjipioneer.com/news/4230774-pipeline-opponents-supporters-gather-bemidji-meeting-enbridge-expansion-request

Fun fact: I think I was the last person to Jamie Trifectasubmit public comment via the computers at the event which were logged in to www.Regulations.gov.  The gal providing tech support was Jamie and I noted that I was also Jami.  A third gal came up while we were getting me set to make my comment – she had a question – and it turns out she is Jaime.  We had to take a photo.  That’s Jaime, Jamie and Jami. 🙂

Here’s the comment I posted as the evening came to a close:

Agency: U.S. Department of State (DOS)
Document Type: Nonrulemaking
Title: Environmental Impact Statements; Availability, etc.: Proposed Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership Line 67 Expansion Project; Public Meeting
Document ID: DOS-2017-0009-0001

Comment:
With everything there is some level of risk. And this study is geared to assess the risk. Having not yet read it in detail, I will make general comments here.
What do we know for sure? We know that we got the run-around from Enbridge in using Line 3 to work around the fact that they did not have approval to cross the border with Line 67. This deception should clearly show the lengths to which they are willing to go to make a dime.
We know that water is essential for life. And we know that oil pipelines tend, more and more of late, to leak. We also know that this oil in Line 67 is some of the worst of the worst, the most corrosive of products, the most energy intensive from which to gain energy. Are we truly considering how much energy goes in to getting a product to make energy? Are we at the point of insanity where we’re expending more on this than we’re gaining?
And we should all see the changing and worsening effects on our climate to the carbon we continue to pump into our atmosphere. If we listen to Bill McKibben and Do the Math (Rolling Stone article denoting the risk of continuing to add carbon to our air), then we will see that the risk of approving this pipeline crossing, only so they can pump more and more oil out of the ground, is too much.
We also know that this oil is basically going from one country, through our land, only to be exported. We have no gain in this and only risk of losing the cleanliness of our water, the beauty of our environment.
Because we also know that, once the oil does leak, it’s impossible to contain. It’s impossible to clean up the mess. Look at Kalamazoo. Should we blame Enbridge for hiding the fact that they weren’t really cleaning up but covering up? Didn’t they have an impossible task? If you can’t truly clean it up, why not try to cover it up instead? It’s more cost effective. Have we incorporated this deceit into the report? Or are we turning a blind eye, pretending they didn’t really do that?
So, to be truly complete, this study needs to consider that we need LESS carbon in our air. We need to KEEP IT IN THE GROUND.
I don’t know that we can stop the powers that be. The big corporation that wants to make money from selling oil, no matter how cheap it gets, making those profits smaller and smaller. The thirst of the world, with America being a huge portion of the problem, for oil. The addiction we have to a fuel that makes everything so much easier.
But this is my small attempt to give voice to Mother Earth. To stand for the Water. To stand for the People whose land will be destroyed if we continue this madness.
I am hopeful that we are truly considering, in their full impact, the above concerns as the decision is made on whether this pipeline crossing is approved.

(One typo fixed from addition to addiction.)

I encourage you to also post a comment should you feel so drawn.  You can do so here: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=DOS-2017-0009-0001  I plan to read more deeply into the SEIS and post further comment as is necessary.

BTW, here’s some totally unrelated but really good news of people power.  http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/defunding-police-how-antiracist-organizers-got-seattle-to-listen-20170309?utm_source=YTW&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=20170310

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