June 16, 2018
Oil Pipeline’s Fans, Foes Gear Up For Testimony Over the Fate of Enbridge’s Line 3
By Elizabeth Dunbar
A smiling, cowboy-hat-wearing James Reents is greeting oil pipeline protesters in Minnesota’s lake country this summer in a big way — his picture is plastered on two billboards with the message, “Welcome Water Protectors.”
Reents, who doesn’t normally seek out that kind of attention, is also planning to travel to St. Paul from his home on Ten Mile Lake near Hackensack, Minn., to speak at a state Public Utilities Commission hearing over a pipeline next week. He has been writing and re-writing the 10-minute statement he’ll make, opposing Enbridge Energy’s plan to build a new line to replace its aging Line 3 oil pipeline that runs through northern Minnesota.
“We’re all water protectors,” he said. Reents and his wife began that work by trying to keep invasive species out of their own lake. Now, in retirement, pipelines have their attention.
“What we realized is that the issues of water and water quality are much larger,” he said Thursday.
Beginning Monday, the PUC will hear final arguments for and against the new pipeline. The commission is expected to decide whether — and how — to allow the project to move forward no later than June 28. The testimony and the decision comes after a nearly four-year process, but they will mark the beginning of what could continue to be a long, emotional battle for those invested in the project’s outcome. Protesters from across the country are expected in Minnesota this month, and they might stay.
“When the state rejects Enbridge’s proposal, we will celebrate,” Winona LaDuke, the longtime environmentalist and indigenous rights activist, said Thursday. Her group, Honor the Earth, put up the billboards with Reents’ face on them. If the PUC approves Enbridge’s project? “We will be ready to camp and protect our water,” she said.
At the same time, other Minnesotans are putting up yard signs, signing petitions and knocking on doors to seek support for the project. Enbridge representatives recently greeted gas station customers in Park Rapids, Minn., with free lunch and $20 gas cards. Besides the company itself, labor unions and agribusiness groups are backing the efforts.