On the morning of Monday, June 28, without warning, Sheriff Cory Aukes of Hubbard County, Minn., began an armed blockade of the Namewag camp on Indigenous-owned private property south of Park Rapids, where Anishinaabe water protectors and allies resisting the Biden-approved, treaty-violating Enbridge Line 3 pipeline are based. In early June, thousands of resisters had converged on the Line 3 route nearby, and close to 200 were arrested engaging in nonviolent direct action to stop construction. More than 700 have been arrested in the resistance campaign thus far, with more arrests each week.
The Line 3 project, a rerouted expansion of the existing Enbridge Line 3, will initially carry some 760,000 barrels per day of highly toxic, carbon-heavy, tar-sands crude from strip-mined First Nations land in the boreal forest of Alberta to Superior, Wis., crossing pristine Indigenous wetlands in northern Minnesota and threatening the headwaters of the Mississippi River. When operational, this one pipeline would account for carbon emissions equivalent to 45 or 50 new coal-fired power plants, or 38 million cars, even as the global climate emergency accelerates.
The Hubbard sheriff’s blockade prevented vehicles from entering or leaving the Namewag camp, effectively cutting off supplies of food and water in the midst of a brutal heat wave. One sheriff’s deputy was recorded saying, “Yeah, we blocked them in. Every time they get out, all hell breaks loose.” A lawyer for the water protectors described it as “nothing less than an overt political blockade.” Or as the Giniw Collective, the group of Indigenous women leading the #StopLine3 campaign, remarked on its indispensable Facebook page: “Keeping wild Natives trapped in, where have we heard that story before?”
Some 1,500 miles to the east, at around 11:30 am on Tuesday, June 29, a group of 60-some climate-justice protesters converged unannounced on the office building in Waltham, Mass., outside Boston, where Enbridge has its northeast US headquarters. Eighteen nonviolent resisters, ages 22 to 80, blockaded the entrance to the Enbridge suite on the third floor, prepared to be arrested. I was among them. We acted in solidarity with the Anishinaabe people resisting Line 3 in Minnesota, as well as with the working-class, environmental-justice communities endangered by Enbridge’s life-threatening and demonstrably unnecessary fracked-gas compressor station in Weymouth, Mass.
Our demands were simple: Immediately and permanently call off the Hubbard County Sheriff’s repressive blockade of the Namewag camp; immediately shut down Line 3 construction; shut down the Weymouth Compressor Station; shut down the Enbridge West Roxbury fracked-gas pipeline in Boston; and shut down the Enbridge-supplied Alton Gas project threatening Mi’kmaq land and water in Nova Scotia.
Rather than come out and talk, Enbridge ran and hid; its employees fled the building by way of an emergency exit. As the Waltham Police threatened, cajoled, and tried to shame us (“What you’re doing is as bad as Enbridge”), 13 of us occupied the third-floor suite entrance for 24 hours. On Wednesday afternoon, the second business day, with Enbridge still refusing to acknowledge our demands, three resisters were arrested for peacefully insisting upon staying put.
Enbridge continues to hide its face as it engages in massive ecological destruction, endangerment of human life, and state-abetted abuse of human rights.
In this territory alone, over 800 wetlands, 200 water bodies, 22 rivers—that’s what Enbridge seeks to contaminate with its tar sands,” Tara Houska, lawyer and founder of the Giniw Collective, told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman on Friday. Houska noted that Enbridge bills Line 3 as a “replacement” project, but that is not the case. “It’s a brand-new pipeline and a brand-new route,” she told Goodman. “They want a new corridor. There is no pipeline in the places that we’re talking about. There is nothing there. It’s just pristine ecoystems.”
The Giniw Collective and #StopLine3 campaign are demanding that the Biden administration suspend the project and order a review of the water-crossing permits issued under Trump. The state-level environmental impact statement, they point out, failed to consider the risks of (all but inevitable) oil spills and the impacts on “tribal cultural resources,” such as wild rice beds sacred to Anishinaabe people, as well as the project’s impact on climate change. If Biden orders a review and applies the same standard that compelled the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL pipeline (to which Biden himself delivered the coup de grâce upon taking office), then, as Houska says, “There’s no way it’s going to pass the test.”
With Minnesota in severe drought, Houska points out, and rivers and lakes at extremely low levels, Enbridge proposes taking 4.9 billion gallons of water for construction purposes (a process called “dewatering”). “There are pump trucks all over the rivers, all over the lakes,” she told Goodman. “I’ve seen rice beds that are completely bone dry and bare, and seeing something like that and knowing what’s happening around the globe, knowing that right here in Minnesota we set [temperature] records almost every day of June because it is so hot. And here we are expanding the fossil fuel industry.”
Meanwhile in Massachusetts, the years-long fight against the scandal-plagued Enbridge compressor station in Weymouth, part of a planned pipeline system to move fracked gas from Pennsylvania to Nova Scotia for export onto the global market, has taken on new urgency. Adjacent to two densely populated environmental-justice communities, the Weymouth compressor has experienced at least four unplanned and unexplained emergency shutdowns since last September, most recently in May, resulting in large releases of methane and carcinogenic compounds, including benzene, toluene, and xylene. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is now weighing an unprecedented reconsideration of Enbridge’s license to operate the compressor station.
“The health and safety of the people of the Fore River Basin was never once considered by FERC, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Governor Charlie Baker’s administration, or any environmental or public health agency, federal or state,” Alice Arena, president of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, told me by e-mail. What’s more, she says, “the necessity of the project was never proven by Enbridge. In fact, both National Grid and Eversource, two of its biggest customers, stated in November 2019 that they did not need the Weymouth compressor in order to meet their domestic deliveries.”
In an expert brief filed with FERC in April citing “demonstrable violations of safety and environmental protocols,” Boston University environmental scientist Nathan Phillips wrote, “The precedent it would set to allow a high pressure gas facility in a high consequence [i.e. dense urban] area to move into full operation despite an inconclusive finding after a recent emergency failure would have nationwide implications.” Furthermore, Phillips noted that the compressor station’s greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to 1.1 million additional cars on the road (roughly 20 percent of the total registered in Massachusetts), make it grossly incompatible with state and federal climate policies—the implications of which are global.
Phillips was among the Enbridge resisters arrested in Waltham last week. Along with members of the Weymouth community fighting the compressor station, his moral witness includes not only expert testimony but nonviolent civil disobedience.
On June 22, the International Criminal Court in The Hague received an expert panel’s proposal to define “ecocide” as an international crime to be prosecuted alongside crimes against humanity, war crimes, crimes of aggression, and genocide. As Inside Climate News reported last month, “legal scholars said the crime of ecocide could be used to hold the individuals most responsible for major ecological harms accountable, including business, insurance, financial and government leaders. Even consideration of the crime, they said, could signal that mass environmental destruction is now considered one of the most morally reprehensible crimes in the world.”
Pope Francis has endorsed the campaign to make ecocide the “fifth crime” at the ICC. Joe Biden might want to pay attention. The world may never haul Enbridge CEO Al Monaco before The Hague, but if the concept of ecocide gains traction, he and those like him—including politicians like Biden and Justin Trudeau who enable his company’s operations—may well be indicted as moral criminals of the first order.
Yet there is that other, ongoing crime of immeasurable scale that cannot and must not be forgotten. What Enbridge is doing on Anishinaabe land in Minnesota, and what the fossil fuel industry and its political and financial backers are doing to drive global climate catastrophe, amounts to nothing less than a continuation of the genocide against the Indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Global South that began half a millennium ago. Regardless of what we call these crimes—ecocide, genocide, crimes against humanity, or some yet-to-be-conceived-of name—the blood of past, present, and future generations cries out from the ground.
Solidarity begins with listening to that cry—and it doesn’t stop there. Solidarity is more than a mere word.