State Department Enables Illegal Enbridge Scheme to Expand Tar Sands

For Immediate Release:
Contact: Gabby Brown, gabby@newpartners.com, 202-261-2382

This week, the State Department released documents revealing a scheme by Canadian tar sands giant Enbridge to bypass the Presidential Permit process for expansion of its Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline. Enbridge has applied to double the capacity of the pipeline, also known as Line 67, to put it on par with the tar sands carrying capacity of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The State Department has previously made clear that any such expansion requires approval and comprehensive environmental review, and is currently undertaking that review.

Not content to wait for the legally required federal permitting process and environmental review, Enbridge has devised a scheme to transfer the dirty tar sands crude from Alberta Clipper to another pipeline, Line 3, just north of the border, then re-transfer it back to Alberta Clipper once it’s crossed into the United States. This blatant scheme to move up to twice the amount allotted in Enbridge’s permit seems to assert that the pipeline would only impact the few miles around the border crossing, a clear misinterpretation of both the letter and the spirit of the law.

Shockingly, in a two page letter, a mid-level State Department official indicated Enbridge could move forward with this plan despite the fact that it clearly violates the capacity limit imposed by the permit the State Department issued.

“With no public notice, the State Department has shockingly backtracked on its commitment to require environmental review and approval before more dirty tar sands oil enters the United States through Minnesota,” said Marc Fink, a Minnesota-based attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The State Department has violated the public’s right to transparency and participation in approval of projects that impact the health and safety of our communities, land, water and climate,” added Kate Jacobson, of MN350.  “Allowing significantly more tar sand oil to flow before a full environmental impact analysis is complete is unacceptable and irresponsible.”

“The State Department doesn’t get to make up the law as it goes. This is particularly troubling in light of allegations of an inappropriately cozy relationship between the State Department and the oil industry surrounding the Keystone XL environmental impact statement,” said Jim Murphy, Senior Counsel for National Wildlife Federation.  “The State Department cannot in effect approve a doubling of the amount of climate-disrupting tar sands being carried into the Great Lakes region without conducting a proper public review and permitting process. That is a clear violation of the law and the State Department must immediately reverse course and put the best interests of America first.”

“When will Canada have enough risky pipelines cutting thru our land and water? When is enough?” asked Jane Kleeb, of Bold Nebraska. “For the promise of jobs and energy independence, landowners and tribes are being sold out so foreign corporations can get tar sands on the export market. Canada is engaged in a scam circumventing federal, state and local laws all in the name of exporting their tar sands while we take on all the risk of spills.”

“Expanding the Alberta Clipper pipeline is entirely inconsistent with the administration’s commitment to taking aggressive action on climate change, and it’s also illegal,” said Sierra Club attorney Doug Hayes. “The President’s promise to decide Keystone XL based on its climate impacts is completely meaningless if the State Department is simultaneously permitting other tar sands pipelines behind closed doors.

“Enbridge can’t show how this project is in the nation’s interest, so instead they are trying to hoodwink its regulators,” said Anthony Swift, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Blindly approving Enbridge’s tar sands pipeline expansion would make a mockery of our permitting process and undermine our efforts to address climate change.”

“Allowing more tar sands oil into the United States without conducting impact analyses is unconscionable and illegal. A State Department spokesman said just this week that the Department is committed to ‘a rigorous, objective, and transparent review process’ with regards to pipeline approval. That is not possible if they eschew a review process altogether,” said Luísa Abbott Galvão of Friends of the Earth.

Jason Kowalski, Policy Director of 350.org, said “When we blocked Keystone XL, the fossil fuel industry learned that they have a much stronger hand to play in back rooms than on the streets. They will break the law and wreck our climate if that’s what it takes for them to make a buck — and we will be ready to stand up to them, from Nebraska, to Minnesota, to the streets of New York City.”

“Apparently John Kerry’s Department of State doesn’t think the President’s Climate Test should apply to an additional 350,000 barrels per day of dirty tar sands oil. They’re trying to approve almost half the volume of the KXL pipeline, but it won’t work. If this stands, this will be a disaster for the climate and for the President’s credibility,” said Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International.  “It’s terrible timing, as the President prepares to join other world leaders in New York next month.  You can’t approve more tar sands into the U.S. and then turn around and talk about a commitment to combating climate change with a straight face. That’s simply climate denial.”

Secretary Kerry and President Obama have both committed to making meaningful progress on climate, and with the international Climate Summit around the corner, the eyes of the world are watching to see how seriously the United States is taking climate action. Allowing this decision to stand would prioritize Enbridge’s desire to expand development of the dirtiest fuel source on the planet over the interests of the American people, and would undermine any credibility President Obama has to encourage other countries to commit to combat climate change.

In the event that the Obama Administration does not recognize the dire consequences of allowing this decision to go through, groups opposed to tar sands expansion are currently evaluating their legal options to force an injunction on construction.

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RELEASE: CLEAN AIR GROUPS APPLAUD EPA REVIEW OF POLLUTION PLAN FOR SHERCO

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Joel Finkelstein for NPCA | 202.285.0113 | finkelstein@climateadvisers

Alison Flowers for Sierra Club | 303-246-6297 | alison.flowers@sierraclub.org

 

Clean Air Groups Applaud EPA Review of Pollution Plan for Minnesota’s Dirtiest Coal-Fired Power Plant

Xcel’s Sherco Coal Plant Damages Air Quality for Midwesterners and our National Parks and Wilderness Areas

MINNEAPOLIS, MN — After years of delay, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday agreed to revisit the pollution control plan for Xcel Energy’s Sherburne County Generating Station (Sherco). Sherco is Minnesota’s dirtiest coal-fired power plant. The pollution created by the 37-year-old Sherco plant is unhealthy for people and is a major contributor to the haze that obscures views at Voyageurs and Isle Royale National Parks, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

As a result of this agreement, EPA will act on a 2009 certification by the National Park Service that Sherco is impairing national park visibility. The agency will propose a plan by February 27th, 2015 and finalize a plan by the end of August 2015. EPA’s obligation is based on the Clean Air Act’s requirement to protect America’s greatest national parks and wilderness areas from air pollution.

EPA’s commitment comes as the result of a lawsuit brought by a group of clean air advocates, including the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Sierra Club, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Voyageurs National Park Association and Fresh Energy.

“This is a major step toward clean air in Boundary Waters, Voyageurs and Isle Royale,” said Stephanie Kodish, Director & Counsel for the Clean Air Program at NPCA. “At last, today we can say that EPA is going to act. Now we need to make sure that EPA’s action is as strong and meaningful as the Midwest deserves.”

While EPA has agreed to take some action by the end of next February, the form of that action is uncertain. There are at least three possible scenarios:

  • EPA could require Sherco to be retrofitted with best available pollution controls.
  • EPA could determine that the National Park Service was wrong and that Sherco does not impair the air quality in Voyageurs and Isle Royale National Parks, and require no additional controls. This is similar to the argument Xcel is making, even though both Xcel’s and the state’s own air pollution modeling both show that these controls still mean dirty air and impacted visibility at Voyageurs and Isle Royale for roughly a month each year; and at Boundary Waters almost two months of every year.
  • EPA could agree to a weak haze plan put forward by Minnesota state regulators that does not require best available retrofit controls, even though technology that can remove 90 percent or more of haze-causing emissions is available and has been installed on over 200 similar coal plants nationwide.

“We hope that our families will soon be able to breathe a little easier, especially in our parks,” said Jessica Tritsch, organizer for the Sierra Club in Minnesota. “The health consequences of Xcel Energy’s Sherco power plant are still very present, and we need this utility to step up and clean up the dirty air it’s been creating for years.”

EPA’s agreement to take action on the Park Service’s 2009 certification is set forth in a Consent Decree that was lodged yesterday in federal district court in Minneapolis.  The Consent Decree will not become final until the completion of a public comment period and thereafter review and approval by the Court.

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NEWS: Sierra Club Applauds Plan to Curb Carbon Pollution

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

June 2, 2014

Contact:

Karen Monahan, karen.monahan@sierraclub.org, 612-259-2451

Alison Flowers, alison.flowers@sierraclub.org, 303-246-6297

 

Sierra Club Applauds Plan to Curb Carbon Pollution

CITY, STATE — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposal for the first-ever national protections from dangerous carbon pollution from existing power plants. Carbon pollution causes climate disruption, costing Minnesota families $969,712,360 in 2011 and 2012 alone.

This new standard, which is part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, will clean up the industries that create the lion’s share of carbon pollution in our country and in Minnesota, where Xcel Energy’s Sherco plant remains the largest carbon and soot polluter in the state. The new protections will also help reduce other life-threatening air pollution including mercury, soot, and smog. In response, the Sierra Club North Star Chapter’s Beyond Coal and Environmental Justice campaigns released this video calling for a strong and just carbon rule.

Michelle Rosier, campaign and organizing manager for the Sierra Club, also issued the following statement:

“Today, we applaud President Obama and the EPA for their move to clean up our air, improve the health of our children, and curb the worst effects of climate disruption. These life-saving protections could not come at a more critical time. Climate disruption has already cost Minnesota families more than $969 million in 2011 and 2012 alone.

“Action on climate disruption not only protects our health and communities, but will also spur innovation and strengthen our economy. Minnesotahas been on a path beyond coal to clean energy for a decade, and our state has demonstrated success in reducing carbon while growing a strong economy. These carbon protections are an opportunity to continue to grow our renewable energy economy.

“We now look forward to working with Governor Dayton and all Minnesotans to create a strong and just state implementation plan to protect all Minnesota families from harmful air pollution. We urge Governor Dayton to be the leader we know he is for clean air and healthy children.”

 

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Minnesota’s National Day of Action on Keystone XL and Tar Sands Pipelines: “Hands Across the Land”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 17, 2014

Contact:
Terry Houle, Sierra Club, 952-686-1493 (cell), terry99@gmail.com
Brian Anderson, Sierra Club, 508-271-5825 (cell), brian.anderson@northstar.sierraclub.org

Hands Across the Land - Photo Credit Terry Houle

Twin Cities Citizens Joined National Day of Action Against Keystone XL
130 people Said “No” to Dirty Fuels and “Yes” to Clean Energy

Minneapolis, MN –  As part of a national day of action, more than 130 residents of the Twin Cities and surrounding metro areas met at the Lake Street/Marshall Bridge today. They gathered to ask the president and local officials to reject the Keystone XL pipeline and other dirty fuel projects like the Alberta Clipper here in Minnesota that threaten our communities and destabilize our climate.

Enbridge, the leading pipeline operator in Canada’s oil sands region, is asking the MN Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to double the capacity of an existing northern Minnesota tar sands pipeline, the Alberta Clipper, to carry nearly as much tar sands oil as Keystone XL.

The Alberta Clipper feeds pipelines that stretch all across the Midwest, and an expansion would put rural communities, waters, and lands at greater risk of toxic spills and other hazards. If the Alberta Clipper is approved, other pipeline proposals such as the Sandpiper – a 610-mile crude oil line, which would run across Minnesota – are poised to move forward.

As millions begin to understand that we must keep dirty fuels in the ground if we are to have any hope of halting climate change, there’s a rising tide of grassroots activism demanding that we choose a clean energy future over the dangerous and dirty fuels of the past.

Brian Anderson of the Sierra Club’s Minnesota Beyond Oil and Tar Sands Committee said, “The damage from the Keystone XL and Alberta Clipper pipelines is far reaching — from worsening climate disruption to the destruction of our nation’s special places. Today we’re uniting against dirty fuels and speaking out for clean energy that will benefit us all.”

The event was locally organized by the Sierra Club North Star Chapter and MN350, and nationally by the Tar Sands Coalition and Hands Across the Sand / Hands Across the Land. Hands, founded in 2010, grew into an international movement after the BP oil disaster in April of that year, during which people came together to join hands, forming symbolic barriers against spilled oil and the impact of other forms of extreme energy.

More than 100 similar events were held across the country and around the world by Hands Across the Sand/Land and other groups. Thousands of citizens joined against a range of dirty fuel projects from the Keystone XL pipeline, to offshore drilling and seismic testing, hydraulic fracturing and LNG export terminals, tar sands mining and crude by rail, and mountaintop removal coal mining. The events also highlighted the impacts of climate disruption– rising sea levels, drought, forest fires, ocean acidification, crop loss and flooding.

“Northern Minnesota is facing an incredible number of tar sands and extreme energy expansion projects right now, from Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper to Line 3 and Sandpiper. Most of these lines cross the Mississippi River,” said Andy Pearson of MN350.

The events are aimed at steering America’s energy policy away from its dependence on fossil fuels and towards clean energy. The goal is to show leaders in all levels of government that public support is strong for moving away from dirty fuels and adopting policies that encourage clean energy instead.

“We’re here to tell our leaders that they need to protect our communities by rejecting projects that expand the extraction and use of dirty fuels,” said Terry Houle, Sierra Club North Star Chapter volunteer leader.  “We should be putting our innovation to work to accelerate the shift to clean, renewable energy and better transportation options.”

This week’s National Day of Action is another manifestation of a growing movement demanding that our leaders act quickly and boldly to address climate change.  It comes in the wake of the Department of State’s recent announcement that it was extending its review of the pipeline, and the Reject & Protect encampment in Washington, DC which dramatically highlighted the opposition of farmers, ranchers and Native Americans who would be directly impacted by the pipeline, In early March, Keystone activists presented the Administration with over 2.5 million comments opposing the pipeline.

Hands Across the Land - Photo Credit Terry Houle

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Minnesota’s National Day of Action on Keystone XL and Tar Sands Pipelines: “Hands Across the Land”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  May 15, 2014

Contact:  Terry Houle, 952-686-1493 (cell), terry99@gmail.com 

Margaret Levin, 612-259-2446, margaret.levin@sierraclub.org

When: Saturday, May 17 – Gather at 11:30 a.m. and join hands at Noon

Where: Lake Street / Marshall Avenue Bridge (meet on the St. Paul side)

What:  Minnesotans will join hands across the Lake Street-Marshall Ave bridge that links the Twin Cities across the Mississippi River, symbolically blocking the proposed expansion of three northern Minnesota pipelines that would cross the Mississippi. Large posters will bring back the memorable “Burma Shave” sign format to highlight creative messaging!

Why: A nationwide day of action to raise awareness and help build the movement against tar sands. Minnesota will host one of the 100+ coordinated events across the country to say “No” to Keystone XL and other dirty fuels and “Yes” to clean energy.  View a national map of events: http://content.sierraclub.org/beyondoil/may-17-national-day-action

Sponsors:  North Star Chapter (Minnesota) of the Sierra Club, MN350 and a long list of national partner organizations.

Three weeks after the powerful “Reject and Protect” encampment in Washington, DC, and two weeks after release of the National Climate Assessment, Americans will take to bridges, beaches, refineries, and government offices to ask the president to reject the Keystone XL pipeline and other dirty fuel projects that threaten our communities and destabilize our climate. Urban, suburban and rural, ordinary citizens will urge our leaders to accelerate the transition to clean energy.

The event follows efforts this week in Minnesota by the oil industry to weaken a House-passed and Governor-supported measure that would provide more safety oversight and better response time for pipeline and railroad explosions and fires arising from the transportation of dirty fuels throughout the state and in the heavily populated Twin Cities area. 

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SWLRT Equity Coalition Launches PeoplesTransit.org Website

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – May 8, 2014

Contacts:    Greta Bergstrom, Greta@takeactionminnesota.org651.336.6722

Site Advocates for Transit Enhancements to Address Racial and Economic Inequities Along Corridor

Minneapolis, MN – A growing coalition of organizations and transit riders launched a campaign and website on Thursday to promote a new dialog around construction of the Southwest light rail as the municipal consent process of public meetings gets underway. The first is a public forum in North Minneapolis to be held at Minnesota Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) between transit riders and Met Council members on Saturday afternoon, May 10.

“While Southwest light rail wasn’t built with our community in mind, it has the potential to improve racial and economic equity in Minneapolis and across the region. But not unless we negotiate improvements that benefit lower-income transit riders and which address persistent inequities across the city of Minneapolis and our region,” said NOC Executive Director Anthony Newby.

The website, PeoplesTransit.org, was launched by NOC, TakeAction Minnesota, ISAIAH, the Sierra Club and the Harrison Neighborhood Association to promote an array of equity enhancements the Met Council, City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County should embrace as they enter mediation and the process of gaining municipal consent. The coalition says equity concerns must be placed at the center of the debate and move past the protracted infighting over the Kenilworth corridor.

Alex Tsatsoulis, Land Use Chair of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter, wants SWLRT to move forward. “Our shared vision for a more sustainable and resilient Twin Cities region depends on easy, affordable access to good jobs for everyone. Southwest is a vital part of that access. We have an opportunity with this project to do better. Let’s get this done.”

The website itself lays out a broader vision for transit that lifts up people of color and low-income communities along the SWLRT corridor, including:

  • More bus service and higher frequency routes connecting the Northside to SWLRT
  • Modern streetcars that can fit along narrower corridors and begin to reverse the disinvestment of the past with new jobs and housing
  • Reduced or free bus fares in targeted stations along the alignment
  • Targeted investment in the Harrison Neighborhood, through implementation of the Bassett Creek Valley Master Plan
  • No diesel train storage next to the Van White station
  • Bus shelters that actually shelter transit users, including heated shelters

“We believe SWLRT is a crucial opportunity for communities who rely on public transit but who are always left out of the conversation. We want to make sure these individuals have a voice at the negotiating table as decisions about SWLRT are finalized,” said Doran Schrantz, Executive Director of ISAIAH.

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People’s Transit is a coalition of individuals and organizations working to ensure equity is placed at the center of the Southwest Light Rail (SWLRT) debate. We see smart transit policy as a crucial opportunity for increasing economic opportunity and achieving racial equity across the city of Minneapolis and our region.

RELEASE: Giant Health ‘Bills’ Delivered to Xcel, Minnesota Power for Hidden Pollution Costs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

May 7, 2014

Contact:

Alison Flowers, 303-246-6297, alison.flowers@gmail.com

Jessica Tritsch (Duluth), 612-963-9642, jessica.tritsch@sierraclub.org

Alexis Boxer (Minneapolis), 203-885-3629, alexis.boxer@sierraclub.org

Giant Health ‘Bills’ Delivered to Xcel, Minnesota Power for Hidden Pollution Costs

Fossil fuel pollution costs Minnesotans $2.1 billion in health and environmental impacts — 94 percent from coal pollution

MINNESOTA — Today citizens delivered oversized health ‘bills’ to two Minnesota utilities — Xcel Energy in Minneapolis and Minnesota Power in Duluth — charging them for the costly health and environmental impacts of fossil fuel pollution. These utilities are required to factor in pollution costs into their energy decisions using state estimates, but the cost values are close to 20 years old and do not reflect the known health effects of coal pollution. A recent study found fossil fuel pollution costs Minnesotans $2.1 billion in health and environmental impacts – 94 percent from coal pollution.

This year the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission agreed to study these impacts and determine how to updates the cost values to reflect current science. Community members are seeking to ensure the hidden costs of coal pollution are included, such as emergency room visits, medical bills and missed school days.

“On top of paying our monthly electricity bills, we’re also footing the bill for health care expenses and costly environmental damages,” said Beth Mercer-Taylor, a Falcon Heights City Council member and mother of an asthmatic child. “The state needs to update these costs so that the utilities feel the financial toll their pollution has on our daily lives.”

Xcel’s coal pollution costs Minnesotans as much as $1.4 billion each year in health and environmental impacts. Meanwhile Minnesota Power’s coal pollution costsas much as $615 million each year. These estimates do not include mercury pollution, which also takes a toll on Minnesotans health, lakes and wallets annually.

In late March, the Sierra Club put Minnesota Power on notice for more than 12,500 federal Clean Air Act violations at its Clay Boswell, Taconite Harbor and Syl Laskin coal plants over the last five years, which have threatened public health.  Maps from a new report show dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide pollution emitted by the Taconite Harbor plant.

“Many Cook County residents like myself are very concerned about the health and pollution damage caused by the coal burning power plant at Taconite Harbor,” said Gordy Dodge, an EMS first responder whose family has had a home near the plant for more than 20 years. “Minnesota families should not be tasked with paying for costly pollution that already damages our health.”

The Clean Air Task Force estimates that Minnesota Power’s Clay Boswell, Taconite Harbor and Syl Laskin coal plants contribute to a combined 367 asthma attacks, 36 heart attacks, and 23 premature deaths per year. The elderly, children and people with respiratory and heart disease are most at risk. Minnesota Power’s coal plant pollution — including soot, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide.

Xcel’s Sherco coal plant in Becker, Minn., emits 12,000 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) & 20,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2). Soot and smog pollution from coal plants contribute to significant health impacts, including asthma, lung cancer and other respiratory ailments. A study by the Clean Air Task Force study found that particle pollution from Sherco leads to an estimated 1600 asthma attacks, 150 heart attacks and 92 deaths each year.

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