Minnesota Youth Win Legal Standing in Fight Against Line 3 Tar Sands Pipeline

In historic move, judge grants Youth Climate Intervenors legal status to bring climate arguments to pipeline permitting process

ST. PAUL, MN— On July 3, a Minnesota judge made the historic decision to grant 13 young people legal status as an official stakeholder in the permitting case for Enbridge’s controversial Line 3 tar sands pipeline. Judge Ann O’Reilly’s decision gives the “Youth Climate Intervenors” — all under the age of 25 — the right to represent themselves in the court proceedings.

Enbridge is requesting permits to abandon their 60-year-old Line 3 pipeline and build a replacement that would nearly double its oil capacity. The project has met fierce grassroots opposition in Minnesota and across the country from those concerned about its impacts on treaty lands, wild rice, drinking water, and the climate consequences of pumping 760,000 barrels a day of the most carbon-intensive oil on earth.

"I'm fighting for climate justice so my grandchildren, and my grandchildren's grandchildren, can see the beauty this extraordinary planet has to offer," said Nolan Berglund, a high school sophomore and member of the Northern Cheyenne nation.

In their petition to legally intervene, the group wrote: "Our generation faces a daunting future, and so we are compelled to fight for our right to the privileges and stability that generations before us took for granted...The resources meant to be held in public trust for future generations have been squandered away by the governments that are meant to protect us, and so we feel that it is both reasonable and necessary that we are granted a seat at the table to argue for their protection ourselves."

Each of the Youth Climate Intervenors argue that they have specific personal rights that will be jeopardized if the pipeline is built—from health conditions that make them vulnerable to climate impacts like extreme heat waves to threats to the fish and wild rice they rely on for food and spiritual practices.

“Make no mistake: this is as personal as it gets. With every barrel of oil burned, my chances at a long and happy life diminish,” said 20-year-old intervenor Frances Wetherall. “I can’t stand idly by while Big Oil profits off the destruction of my future.”

“This is a historic ruling. No group of young people has represented themselves in a pipeline case like this before, and certainly not against the largest pipeline company in North America,” said Akilah Sanders-Reed, a 23-year-old Minneapolis resident. “Judge O’Reilly granting us standing on the basis of personal climate injuries is a historic victory, and sets a refreshing precedent for the way the voices of our generation should be respected in decisions that will impact our futures."

The intervention will play out over the next several months, as the youth climate intervenors, Enbridge, and other intervening parties argue their cases in front of the judge through a series of hearings, including chances for public input. A decision from the judge on whether to proceed with the project is expected in the first half of 2018.