Making history this week, 13 young people from Minnesota joined five indigenous tribes, four organizations, and one landowner in a Minnesota courtroom to challenge a $7.5 billion pipeline proposal put forth by the Canadian fossil-fuel company Enbridge.
The 13 activists between the ages of 16 and 24, known as the Youth Climate Intervenors, are fighting against what’s known as Line 3, a pipeline project they see as a threat to not only their own futures, but those of other young people around the globe. The Line 3 project would create a new pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wisconsin, to replace one built along a similar route in the 1960s.
The plan has raised concerns among Minnesota residents because of Enbridge’s history of spills and leaks, prompting environmental and indigenous groups across the state to utilize a Minnesota state law that allows individuals or groups to enter contested case proceedings as official parties. When Akilah Sanders-Reed, an organizer at the Power Shift Network and one of the 13 Youth Climate Intervenors, learned this was happening, she jumped on the opportunity. “The minute I heard that, I knew that young people needed to have a seat there,” Sanders-Reed said. She mostly sought out other young activists in Minnesota. “We can actually have a seat at the table based on the fact that we are going to be the most directly and disproportionately impacted by this decision,” she said. “The people making this decision aren’t. They’re making decisions about us without including us.”
On May 15, three days after filing their petition, the Youth Climate Intervenors explained to a judge—without a lawyer—how Line 3 would affect them and why they wanted to be a formal party in the case. On July 5, Judge Ann O’Reilly gave the group standing in a landmark decision, agreeing that their generation will be disproportionately affected by climate change. Empowered and pleasantly surprised by the decision, the Youth Climate Intervenors immediately began recruiting expert witnesses to testify against the project for the November case.
Margaret Breen, an 18-year-old sophomore at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and another of the Youth Climate Intervenors explained that the group was alarmed by the myriad risks associated with a potential new pipeline. If built, it would cross watersheds, wild rice lakes, and the Mississippi Headwaters. “It’s not a replacement,” she said. “It’s an entirely new pipeline along a different route and carrying more oil.” Specifically tar-sands oil, which, she added is “incredibly hazardous.”