Minnesota Public Radio
The 2,340-mile Mississippi River flows through ten states – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, & Louisiana – before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, it provides unique wildlife habitat and drinking water for over 18 million people. This watershed has stitched together the history of the Midwest, providing vital cultural, recreational, and economic resources from the Native American mound builders to today’s bustling cities, from Mark Twain to the inventors of water skiing.
Despite its size and importance, the mighty Mississippi River is not immune to threats. The river has been neglected, polluted, and mistreated for economic gain for decades, and many of these struggles remain. American Rivers just named the Upper Mississippi River as the nation’s most endangered river. New challenges like invasive species, expanding crude oil infrastructure, and climate change threaten our waterways, but communities are also finding creative new solutions to these problems. ELPC is working with our colleagues to clean up old pollution, plan resilient infrastructure, and create jobs in the green economy. We know that healthy rivers mean healthy communities and healthy economies.
Straddling the Mississippi lies a stretch of the Midwest that was untouched by the last glacial drift, across parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. The Driftless region is a treasured place to camp, fish, hike, hunt, and tour vineyards and organic farms, with unique topography and deep rolling hills. Unfortunately, plans for a massive high-powered transmission line threaten to cut a wide swath through this pristine area and destroy part of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge. If built in the planned location in the Refuge, the huge transmission line would cut across the Mississippi Flyway, a major major bird migration route used by hundreds of thousands of birds annually, including cranes and bald eagles. With energy demand flat or declining in the area, there is no energy need for this destructive transmission line. ELPC is representing the National Wildlife Refuge Association, Driftless Area Land Conservancy, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, and Defenders of Wildlife in the courts, as they fight the ATC Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line.
The Driftless Area covers 22,000 acres in the heart of the Upper Mississippi River Basin spanning four states and forming the largest contiguous area of fish and wildlife habitat remaining in the Central United States. This fragile landscape is especially vulnerable to climate destruction that impacts wildlife, natural resources, and the local economy. The Driftless Area Conservation Initiative (DALCI) from 2012-2017 was a very successful program but left behind unmet needs. ELPC is advocating for increased funding for a DALCI 2.0 that would support the transition to regenerative agriculture, conservation infrastructure, expand outdoor recreation, reduce nutrient runoff from agricultural land, and improve climate mitigation and resilience.
The proposed Enbridge Line 3 would traverse an ecologically vulnerable part of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, carrying the same heavy “dilbit” oil from the tar sands that devastated the Kalamazoo River in 2010. This pipeline would cross rivers, lakes, and wetlands, including Native American “ceded territories” where the Bands retain hunting, fishing, and gathering rights. The pipeline would cross near the headwaters of the Mississippi River and then travel east into the Lake Superior watershed, threatening priceless freshwater resources. Working with local colleagues, ELPC attorneys are urging the state to consider whether there is any genuine need for the pipeline, to seriously evaluate alternative routes, and to require Enbridge to set aside funds for any potential ruptures, so taxpayers won’t be stuck with the bill for years of cleanup.
Climate change is already warming the Midwest faster than the rest of the nation, exacerbating destructive spring floods, expanding the territory of invasive species, and causing many other impacts. ELPC put together a state-of-the-science report assessing climate risks around the region, by local experts. We are working to amplify the science and advocate for green infrastructure to build resilient communities. We are also working to shift the Midwest to cleaner transportation and energy solutions, for the long-term health and economic strength of our region.