By Winona LaDuke and Michael Brune
Right now, as the country faces an historic drought, a seemingly endless fire season, and the prospect of yet another treacherous hurricane season, the Biden administration’s bold commitment to tackling climate change and prioritizing the rights of Indigenous communities is facing a significant test. President Biden can and must prioritize his commitments to Native people and climate and environmental justice over Big Oil by taking action on the Line 3 pipeline.
This Friday, the Biden administration can take a stand on a federal lawsuit from two Chippewa and Ojibwe Indian Tribes, Honor the Earth, and the Sierra Club, which are challenging the US Army Corps of Engineer’s November decision to issue a permit for the massive Line 3 pipeline in northern Minnesota.
Last November, under the Trump administration, the Army Corps issued a permit admittedly without considering the climate implications of this 900,000-barrel-a-day tar sands pipeline and its impacts on tribal resources, including treaty-protected fishing, hunting, and gathering rights of the Chippewa and Ojibwe. The Corps also failed to consider that construction of Line 3 would cause massive destruction to wetlands and waterways, including the wasteful use of billions of gallons of water from aquifers and watersheds.
President Biden not only campaigned and was elected on the strongest climate platform in history, he committed to pursuing equity for historically marginalized groups — including Indigenous communities.
The actions the President has taken on both cannot be dismissed. On his first day in office, he recommitted the United States to the Paris Agreement and rejected the Keystone XL pipeline proposal. But the work didn’t stop there. In the months since, he’s taken significant action, including freezing new oil and gas leases on public lands and offshore waters and placed a temporary moratorium on oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
President Biden has shown that he can be the climate president.
But that commitment has waned at times. Over the last several months, his administration opposed shutting down the Dakota Access pipeline, while the federal courts and the Corps review the matter, permitting the pipeline to illegally carry more than 500,000 barrels of oil every day from North Dakota to Illinois. This was a blow to the tribal sovereignty of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has spent years fighting to protect their water along with all who are committed to battling climate change.
The Biden administration also decided to back Donald Trump’s enormous oil drilling operation proposed on Alaska’s North Slope that would produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil every day. In making that decision, the Biden administration ignored how the project would harm fragile wildlife and accelerate global warming.
This inconsistent commitment to fully moving past the Trump administration’s support for fossil fuels and taking the bold action necessary endangers the opportunity President Biden has to completely confront the climate crisis.
Next week, the Biden administration will have an opportunity to make it clear that they stand on the side of Indigenous rights and climate action. The administration can advise the court that climate and environmental justice analysis was required before issuing the permit, and it can exercise its authority to take back the permit for review in the public interest. Doing so would be acting in the public interest and applying common sense.
Line 3 would be responsible for a massive increase of climate pollution, locking in fossil fuel production for decades, while devastating the natural balance that Tribes have sustained for millennia. The President must not allow this project to move forward and be the climate president he campaigned on and has demonstrated he can be.
Winona LaDuke is executive director of Honor the Earth, a Native-led environmental organization.
Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club.