'We Are Here Because the Climate Crisis Is Here'
Members of the progressive "Squad" held a press conference in Minnesota on Friday to draw attention to the Indigenous-led fight against Enbridge's Line 3 tar sands pipeline, which water protectors and environmentalists have been battling on the ground and in court.
Hosted by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the press conference also featured remarks from U.S. Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) as well as Minnesota state Sen. Mary Kunesh (DFL-41).
"The last thing we need to do," said Rep. Ilhan Omar, "is allow the very criminals who created this crisis to build more fossil fuel infrastructure."
"We are here because nearly all of Minnesota is in a state of drought," Omar explained. "We are here because wildfires are burning in northern Minnesota. We are here because the Twin Cities just had their hottest summer on record. We are here because the climate crisis is here."
"The climate crisis is now," she continued. "The climate crisis is happening and the last thing we need to do is allow the very criminals who created this crisis to build more fossil fuel infrastructure."
Omar pointed out that the Canadian company's partly completed Line 3 pipeline—intended to replace an aging pipeline with smaller capacity—is set to cross wetlands and over 200 water bodies, endangering the health of her constituents and treaty lands of Indigenous peoples.
The Minnesota Democrat also highlighted law enforcement's oppression of Line 3 protesters, noting that over 700 water protectors and Indigenous leaders have been arrested.
As Pressley put it: "We are here to shed light and spread awareness about this egregious violation of tribal sovereignty and environmental injustice—and to hear directly from those whose voices have been ignored throughout the process."
The Squad members are planning to meet with Indigenous leaders in Minnesota on Saturday.
The Friday event came just a few days after Omar, Kunesh, and Minnesota state Rep. Heather Keeler (DFL-4A) led a letter (pdf)—joined by state and federal lawmakers—urging President Joe Biden to intervene "to protect Indigenous sovereignty amidst the construction" of the pipeline.
"In recent weeks," the letter to Biden said, "we have seen concerning violations of treaty rights by public agencies and private actors, ongoing violence against Indigenous women, and environmental impacts that will have long-lasting impacts on hunting, fishing, and wild rice gathering as we grapple with the climate crisis."
"We ask that the Department of Interior uphold the rights guaranteed to Indigenous people under federal treaties and fulfill tribal requests for a government-to-government meeting concerning Line 3," the letter continued.
Among the lawmakers who signed on to the the letter was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who had planned to visit Minnesota with her colleagues before the remnants of Hurricane Ida devastated the Northeast, including her New York City district, this week.
Tlaib, who also signed the letter to Biden, said of Line 3 on Friday, "Look, I'm here to help shut it down—and at home in Michigan, we also know firsthand that Enbridge can't be trusted."
"Enbridge is responsible for the worst inland oil spill in American history," Tlaib noted, referencing the Kalamazoo River disaster of 2010. She also highlighted the ongoing fight in her state over Line 5.
The passionate speeches from all lawmakers present came after Biden said Thursday that "the past few days of Hurricane Ida and the wildfires in the West and the unprecedented flash floods in New York and New Jersey is yet another reminder that these extreme storms and the climate... crisis are here."
"We need to… be much better prepared. We need to act," he said, touting his Build Back Better agenda that Democrats in Congress are working to enact through the budget reconciliation process.
The president, however, has neglected to take action to stop Line 3—like he did for the Keystone XL Pipeline shortly after taking office. In what one critic called a "horrible and unconscionable betrayal," Biden's administration has continued to defend in federal court the approval of Enbridge's controversial project under his predecessor.