The Fight Against Minnesota’s Line 3 Pipeline: Bill McKibben and Winona LaDuke in Conversation
In mid-March, as major cities began locking down, environmentalist and Rolling Stone contributor Bill McKibben called activist Winona LaDuke, both in “different corners of rural America with low bandwidth,” to talk about climate change, JPMorgan Chase, and LaDuke’s seven-year effort to stop the construction of an oil pipeline called Line 3.
LaDuke lives on the White Earth reservation, part of the Ojibwe nation in northwestern Minnesota. She’s been a booming voice in Native American land rights for three decades, and in recent years that has intersected directly with campaigns against fossil fuels. She was at the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline — which she calls the “Selma moment” for a lot of Native activists — and she’s now taken that energy to a lower-profile but equally important fight: stopping the reconstruction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota.
“We don’t have any oil in Minnesota,” LaDuke points out, but because the nearest port is in Superior, Wisconsin, the state has become a thruway for Canadian oil. “We have six Enbridge pipelines already, and two Koch brothers pipelines,” she says. Enbridge is hoping to reroute Line 3, which was built in 1968 and has started to decay, rather than digging it up and repairing it. But the new route would go directly through land that sustains the Ojibwe nation — it’s the only place in the world where wild rice grows naturally, and it’s a core part of their economy, their culture, and their diet.
“This is one of the places where our work intersects at the moment,” says McKibben, who has been a climate activist for more than three decades. His most recent writing and organizing efforts have been with a coalition called Stop the Money Pipeline, which focuses on cutting off oil development at the source, by targeting the big banks that fund it. In Rolling Stone’s April climate issue, he detailed how JPMorgan Chase has become the fossil-fuel industry’s biggest lender — $196 billion when it went to press, and that number keeps climbing. And for efforts that help expand the breadth of the industry, like new pipelines, Arctic drilling, and deep-sea exploration, JPMorgan Chase has given 63 percent more than any other bank on Earth. One of those projects is Line 3.
The portions of the pipeline that pass through Canada, Wisconsin, and North Dakota have already been approved, but LaDuke has been effectively stalling the Minnesota section. “For seven years we’ve been fighting them in the courts, in the regulatory process, and in the communities,” LaDuke says. In a massive community-organizing effort, nearly 70,000 individual comments were submitted to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, and 94 percent were opposed to the pipeline. But in 2018, after massive spending from Enbridge, the permits were still granted. “Someone needs to explain to us why 94 percent isn’t enough,” says Suez Taylor, an activist and filmmaker who has worked with LaDuke to document their campaign in LN3: Seven Teachings of the Anishinaabe in Resistance. “Who thinks a foreign corporation matters more than we do?”
The pipeline is still halted during the ongoing appeals process, and opposition to it is now bolstered by concerns about bringing 4,300 new workers into remote communities of Minnesota during this pandemic. “So we’re going to push really hard,” LaDuke says to McKibben. “With the work that you’ve been doing with investors to divest of stupid projects, the insanity of climate change, and the politics and pricing of oil, [it’s] causing the fantastical ideas of Enbridge … to crumble.”