Biden’s Silence on Minnesota Oil Pipeline Frustrates Advocates

Line 3, a comparable project to the canceled Keystone XL pipeline, runs counter to the president's stated climate and environmental goals.

Joe Biden wasted no time canceling the highly controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline once he became president. On inauguration day, he revoked one of the project’s key federal permits, leading Keystone’s developer to cancel the project earlier this month. The new administration’s opposition to the pipeline and its subsequent cancellation made headlines around the world. 

But deep in Minnesota’s northwoods lies another massive pipeline project that’s been called a “doppelganger” of Keystone XL: Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 oil pipeline. Like Keystone XL, Line 3 would carry toxic, carbon-intensive tar sands crude from Canada into the U.S., crossing more than 300 bodies of water—including the ecologically rich Mississippi River headwaters and thousands of acres of wild rice waters that are a critical lifeway to several Native tribes. 

The entities behind the pair of pipelines are multi-billion-dollar Canadian companies headquartered in Calgary, Alberta. Both lines have faced years of resistance and protests by Indigineous and environmental activists. But despite reports of behind-the-scenes pressure, Biden hasn’t taken a public stance on Line 3 the way he did with XL, much to the chagrin of environmental advocates.  

“The silence from the Biden administration on Line 3 is conspicuous and disappointing and really shocking,” says Brett Benson, spokesperson for MN350, a Minnesota climate advocacy group. “When you consider every rational reason the administration had for canceling Keystone XL on the first day in office, that applies to Line 3 as well.”

As president, Biden said he had canceled the pipeline because the oil it would carry would further the climate crisis, and the project didn’t align with his administration’s goals of developing a clean-energy economy for the United States. “The world must be put on a sustainable climate pathway to protect Americans and the domestic economy from harmful climate impacts,” his order read. 

Protests on the Line 3 construction sites have been constant since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the project’s final federal permit in the waning days of the Trump Administration. Construction began shortly after, in early December last year, and was immediately met with resistance. Activists have been fighting the project for years, especially since Minnesota state regulators first approved Line 3 in 2018.

Earlier this month—with Enbridge’s construction more than halfway complete—a coalition of anti-Line 3 groups including the Indigenous Environmental Network and Giniw Collective kicked off a “summer of resistance” with the Treaty People Gathering. Scores of people from all walks of life camped along the pipeline route while others blocked the entrance to an Enbridge pump station and locked themselves to construction equipment. 

“There are moments that sit with my spirit [and] this is one of them,” Giniw Collective founder Tara Houska said in a public statement. “Hundreds of people taking non-violent direct action to shut down an Enbridge Line 3 pump station, taking personal risk for the water, asserting collective agency in a world built on individualism.”

These activists—including Houska and the actress Jane Fonda—were met with stiff policing from the Northern Lights Task Force, a 16-county coalition of law enforcement agencies, funded at least in part by Enbridge, to defend the pipeline construction. The task force says it arrested and booked 179 people on June 7 alone. 

A week later, Native and environmental advocates were dealt another blow when the Minnesota appeals court once again upheld the state Public Utilities Commission’s approval of Line 3 after opposition groups sued the panel. Enbridge’s construction is continuing and the company says the line will be operational by the end of the year. 

Still, activists remain undeterred. They say their fight is too important to stop in the face of the climate crisis, and that they’ll continue pressuring President Biden. If he can cancel Keystone over environmental concerns, they believe, he can wield that same power against Line 3.

“Biden needs to end fossil fuel dependency yesterday,” say Kristen Poppleton, interim executive director of Minnesota-based Climate Generation. “[Line 3] continues our dependency on extractive and oppressive systems, inevitably leaking the world’s dirtiest oil into protected and sensitive lands, and adding more greenhouse gas emissions when we need to dramatically decrease them.