COMMUNITY VOICES | Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper Brings Adverse Impact to Minnesotans

While the nation debates whether TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline is “in our national interest,” another Canadian oil company is quietly making plans to expand its pipeline network through northern Minnesota’s forests, wetlands, private lands and indigenous communities. Running from Hardisty, Alberta through Clearbrook, MN, and on to Superior, WI, Enbridge’s “Alberta Clipper” (line 67) is being considered for expansion from 450,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 570,000 and then a potential 880,000 bpd—more than the Keystone XL’s 800,000 bpd. Enbridge claims that no new right-of-way or pipeline construction is required to handle this doubled load of corrosive tar sands—even though the proposed volume will double—a dangerous error of fact and safety, as this increase will undoubtedly force leaks and ruptures.Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has the power to approve this pipeline proposal–unless the expansion produces “adverse impact” for Minnesotans.  It does.  Weighing the costs of safety, climate change, water quality, human health, and indigenous rights, Minnesotans of today and tomorrow are adversely impacted, and at the PUC’s public hearing on July 17, we need some answers. Safety.  Though Enbridge claims it is an industry leader in pipeline safety and integrity, the U.S. National Transportation and Safety Board has already rebuked the company for its “culture of deviance” on pipeline safety after the 2010 pipeline rupture in Michigan resulted in the largest onshore spill in U.S. history.  That 20,000-barrel “spill” of diluted bitumen contaminated the Kalamazoo River, and the cleanup has yet to be completed.  Worse yet, the company failed to recognize the pipeline rupture during multiple alarms and a loss of pressure in the pipeline, through 17 hours and three work shifts.But Enbridge pipelines have ruptured numerous times, whether due to seam welds, cracked pipes, external corrosion, or explosion.  According to Watershed Sentinel, in the ten years between 2000 and 2010, Enbridge reported 439 pipeline ruptures amounting to 132,715 barrels of oil “spilled.”  Except for the Nemadji River “spill” (452 barrels of oil) in 2003, the public rarely hears about these: i.e., line 67 leaked 600 gallons (15 barrels) on April 24, 2013 near Viking, MN.Climate Change.  Already, increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are causing destructive impacts worldwide.  Drought and flooding are putting crops and animals at risk.  Natural ecosystems are being disrupted, involving losses of biodiversity and shifts in species locations and migrations.  Enbridge’s first proposed upgrade alone would add 120,000 barrels per day, releasing a potential 26 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses annually—the equivalent of 5.5 million more cars.  Earth’s ecosystems are becoming stressed to the breaking point, and climate scientists report that the predicted changes are occurring even faster than they expected.  We are running out of time to make a difference.Water Quality. Spills along the pipeline route in northern Minnesota can and will affect pristine lakes, rivers, and wetlands.  Clean-up–if it occurs–will not easily return these waters to a quality that can support fish, wildlife, and humans.  For four years, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy fought Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper, citing its corporate Environmental Assessment as “grossly deficient” in its failure to conform to the Wetland Conservation Act, Minnesota’s public waters laws, and other obligations set forth in the Clean Water Act.Human Health.  Increased exposures to the volatile organic compounds needed to dilute the bitumen—given Enbridge’s defiance of safety rules in Canada, and their continued resistance to cleaning up the Kalamazoo River spill—means that small town residents, indigenous communities, and outdoorspeople alike may be breathing the “dilbit” contaminated air.  In 2010, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences report showed climate change has increased rates of asthma, respiratory allergies, and airway diseases, as well as risks of cardiovascular disease, foodborne illnesses, heat mortalities, neurological disorders, and rates of infectious diseases such as malaria and typhus. Indigenous Rights.  On February 28, a group of Red Lake nation activists set up camp atop four older pipelines running near Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper, in protest of Enbridge’s 64-year trespass on native land. Enbridge’s pipeline runs through Red Lake waterways and even Cass Lake; beyond the town, exposed pipelines lie in swamp wetlands.             Who benefits from these increased risks to human and environmental health?            And why should Minnesotans accept this expanded Canadian pipeline, when even British Columbia has refused—due to environmental shortcomings?            When the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission holds its July 17 hearing on Enbridge’s proposed expansions, we need to show up. Continue Reading

OUR STORIES | Young Ethiopian American founds soccer org, gives back to Ethiopia

Mikyas Woldemichael is a 22-year-old Ethiopian American who isn’t afraid to follow his dreams. The University of Minnesota student is the founder of Ra’ey Youth Soccer Organization, which support kids in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in training and improving their soccer skills.He started Ra’ey, which stands for “better vision” in Amharic, a year ago when he went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to volunteer for Ethiopia Reads. His goal with Ra’ey is to help kids who live in poverty by getting them physically active, involved in their community, and focused on academics. “I don’t want them just hanging out on the street all day and night,” he said. It all started when Woldemichael observed how passionate the youth in his neighborhood, Haya Kilo, were about soccer. But they lacked the resources to properly train and play. All they had – as most children in Ethiopia do – were makeshift soccer balls made of plastic bags handstuffed with scraps of paper and cloth, he said.“I had some soccer balls I gave them. So they asked if I could give them money to buy them matching shirts. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Brother Ali visits student protesters at Macalester College

Minnesota-based hip hop artist, Brother Ali, made an impromptu visit to a group of student activists protesting the administration’s relationship with Wells Fargo bank on Wednesday. Brother Ali, who continues to be active in the Occupy Homes MN movement, spoke to the students on the steps of Weyerhaeuser, Macalester College’s administrative building.The contingent of student protesters is associated with Occupy Homes MN and opposes the college’s partnership with Wells Fargo due to the bank’s foreclosure practices. The students launched a sit-in earlier this week, occupying the administrative building since 10 a.m., Tuesday.“What we’re really supposed to be doing is educating leaders for the future,” said Ali of higher education, “so what you’re doing is exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.”He added, “Students were the bulk of energy in the civil rights movement; students ended the war in Vietnam effectively; students have done a whole lot throughout time, and so this is a part of a legacy that you’re adding onto.”The student group brought their grievances to the attention of the administration months ago, beginning a yearlong dialogue about potential divestment from Wells Fargo and a reallocation of funds to a community bank. Dissatisfied with the pace of reform, the students issued a deadline to the administration for a final decision to be announced on Thursday, April 18.In response to the demands Macalester CFO, David Wheaton and Assistant Vice President for Finance, Kate Walker released a memo on behalf of the administration describing in detail their reasons for maintaining their business with Wells Fargo. While accurate data is difficult to access, they acknowledged that Wells Fargo may be the biggest forecloser in the state of Minnesota, but added that this may be a factor of Wells Fargo’s large market share, as opposed to a matter of aggressive policies particular to the bank.The memo noted that 70% of Wells Fargo’s mortgages are owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and that those institutions are responsible for setting policy regarding foreclosure. Continue Reading

St. Paul Challenge: “Love the House. Hate the Neighborhood”

Wearing an oversized winter coat with his hood up and gloveless hands in his pockets Tim Goss stood on the front porch of the newly renovated house he calls home – for now.“I love the house. Hate the neighborhood.”The 37 year old Goss is referring to his rental duplex in Frogtown located at the intersection of University Avenue and Grotto Street. This specific home was one of seven known boarded and vacant homes recently developed by the Greater Frogtown Community Development Corporation to be rented out as affordable housing.Goss moved into his house May 14, 2012 and says he is very happy with the formerly vacant home. “The house itself is nice,” said Goss. “It’s roomy, the location is great, and there is a fenced yard for the kids.”Goss and his wife have two kids, ages 9 and 11, and despite his enthusiasm for his house, he is concerned Frogtown is the wrong environment to be raising kids. He worries for their safety and is concerned they will be exposed to crime and violence at a young age.Shaking his head and looking off in the distance Goss said, “This is not a safe area.” He pointed to the southeast corner of University Avenue and Grotto Street and said there had been two men shot in the parking lot the other day. Continue Reading

Remembering Chairman Fred

Screeching tires.  Flashing lights.  Heavily armed men rushing up the dark stairwell open fire through walls and doors on the sleepers inside.  When it is over at least 90 holes mark Continue Reading

MN VOICES | Tenzin Pelkyi: From refugee family to U of M law student

In a coffee shop full of University of Minnesota students behind glowing screens in the peak of finals weekend study hours, there is nothing outwardly remarkable about Tenzin Pelkyi. Her quiet demeanor and small stature are in stark contrast to this college senior’s accomplishments, life story and dedication to advocating for human rights of the Tibetan people and of the diaspora.As a former Tibetan refugee born in New Delhi, India who can still envision India’s yogis, monkeys and beautiful natural environment, she considers herself much like her native Minnesotan U of M classmates.“The great thing about this state is that there are a number different refugee populations here,” Pelkyi said. “With this exposure, many Minnesotans take civic engagement seriously, are aware of the larger world, and are able to think more broadly about society, racism, and education.” Pelkyi’s mother and father escaped Tibet in the 1959 Tibetan Uprising and lived in exile in India till the 1990s. In 1992, Pelkyi’s father obtained one of only 1,000 visas given to Tibetans to resettle in the United States.Minnesota has the second-largest Tibetan refugee population in the United States. Some may wonder why refugees from India, Tibet, or anywhere would come to such a cold and landlocked state as Minnesota. The Twin Cities became the largest of the settlement sites as volunteers successfully organized host families and jobs for the immigrants. Because of restrictions of the U.S. Tibetan Resettlement Project, Pelkyi and the rest of her family were not able to join her father in the United States until four years later. Human Rights ScholarshipTenzin Pelkyi won the Sullivan Ballou award this year from the University of Minnesota. Here’s what she had to say:First of all, it was really amazing and overwhelming to have the Tibetan peoples’ struggle recognized and have all my efforts toward this end read aloud to a room full of people who were as passionate as I am about human rights. Continue Reading

FREE SPEECH ZONE | A Somali-American activist on Eden Prairie Schools

Ahmed Jama is a Somali-American advocate for educational equity and an activist in closing the educational achievement gap between the haves and have nots.  In 2011, the Eden Prairie School District implemented plans to accommodate the high profile suburb’s large population of Somali immigrants; close the learning gap; deal with budget challenges and prevent increasing levels of segregation in one of its elementary schools.  But the changes were strongly opposed by a highly politicized group of parents sporting various handles including “Yes for Neighborhood Schools.” and “Eden Prairie School Board Accountability.”  They claimed they didn’t want their kids bussed to school outside their neighborhoods and pressured school superintendent Dr. Melissa Krull to leave and elected four candidates to Eden Prairie’s School Board. Continue Reading