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The hyperbole keeps coming from Enbridge and its backers

Clearbrook Mayor Dylan Goudge’s Aug. 12 Community Voices commentary touts how the construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 crude oil pipeline gave his community a boost, but he inflates the project’s long-term economic benefits and ignores its long-term environmental harms.

Clearbrook is an Enbridge town, home to Enbridge’s Clearbrook Terminal and its nine above-ground crude oil storage tanks. It’s not surprising Goudge is a pipeline booster. His commentary relies heavily on a recent report on Line 3’s economic benefits, published by the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) Labovitz School of Business.

Enbridge and its allies funded the study.

This requires context. In 2017, before state regulators approved Line 3, Enbridge was citing an earlier UMD Business School study that estimated Line 3’s potential job creation. Enbridge used that study in its PR campaign.

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APEX, a Duluth-based business group, funded the study. Enbridge, UMD, and the Duluth News Tribune all sat on the APEX board, which had publicly supported Line 3.

That first UMD study didn’t disclose APEX funding and its conflict of interest, which drew criticism from such groups as Public Accountability. The study was a prime example of how the fossil fuel industry funds university studies to give them more credibility, Public Accountability wrote. Then, their supporters write op-eds and letters to editor based on the studies (like Goudge’s commentary in MinnPost).

APEX also funded the most recent UMD Business School study. This time, the study disclosed APEX’s funding. It included a disclaimer: The report wasn’t endorsing Enbridge or its projects, it said.

However, Enbridge provided most of the data used in the analysis.

The study also used a pro-industry frame. The authors were only asked for economic analysis. They didn’t consider the project’s social or environmental impacts, and the authors said their report shouldn’t be viewed “as a cost benefit analysis or environmental impact assessment.”

Goudge cites the report’s conclusion that roughly 50 percent of Line 3’s construction workers lived in the 16-county project area. That’s a key number. It’s what Enbridge promised the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) it would deliver.

Enbridge released its 2021 jobs report in February saying Minnesotans got 46 percent of Line 3 jobs. Elsewhere in Enbridge’s report, it shows that Minnesota laborers only worked 32 percent of total hours. As a practical matter, that’s well below the promised impact.

Goudge’s piece links Line 3 construction to Clearbrook’s current thriving economy. “The tourism industry, including restaurants, hotels, and retail had to scale up and it hasn’t slowed down,” he wrote.

Line 3 created a short-term jobs spike. It wasn’t some kind of magic pixie dust that creates perpetual economic development. Enbridge ended construction nearly a year ago. Those jobs are gone.

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There are many reasons that Clearbrook’s families and businesses might be thriving today. One could be COVID’s lessening grip. It’s farfetched to credit Line 3 construction for Clearbrook’s current economic well-being.

Without explaining how, Goudge also claims Line 3’s construction stabilized state and regional tax bases, and “the positive impact of this project will continue into the future.”

Line 3’s ongoing tax benefit is the property tax Enbridge pays for its easement. It’s hyperbole to say Line 3 construction stabilized the state’s tax base.

Scott Russell

Scott Russell

Like the UMD study Goudge cites, his commentary ignores Line 3’s environmental damage, including the aquifer breach near the Clearbrook Terminal, right in his backyard.

Enbridge blatantly ignored its approved construction plans, drove sheet pilings too deep, and punctured an aquifer cap. Enbridge should have reported the breach right away. State regulators wouldn’t learn of it for nearly five months. Enbridge took a year to fix it.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen wrote: “Enbridge’s actions are clear violations of state law and also of public trust. This never should have happened.”

Line 3 construction breached at least three aquifers total, releasing 255 million gallons of groundwater. One still isn’t fixed.

There’s a good chance Enbridge will apply to rebuild one of its other aging pipelines in Minnesota.

We need to learn from Line 3. State leaders have to pass a balanced budget. It’s not fair to pass financial debts onto a future generation.

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We need to stop approving projects with large environmental costs onto future generations.

Scott Russell is a retired journalist. He writes the Healing Minnesota Stories blog and has written extensively on Line 3.

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