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Rally in Duluth Civic Center protests pipeline's potential to pollute

DULUTH, Minn. -- Four of the seven environmental activists charged with trespassing in the Duluth offices of Enbridge Energy last month while protesting proposed oil pipelines across northern Minnesota appeared in court Tuesday.

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A drum group begins a Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, rally at the Duluth Civic Center in support of seven people arrested for trespassing at Enbridge Energy’s Duluth offices last month, and against proposed oil pipelines in northern Minnesota. (Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service)

DULUTH, Minn. -- Four of the seven environmental activists charged with trespassing in the Duluth offices of Enbridge Energy last month while protesting proposed oil pipelines across northern Minnesota appeared in court Tuesday.

The protesters refused to leave the oil pipeline company's offices at the downtown Tech Village building on Superior Street and were arrested, booked into jail and quickly released Nov. 2.

The four were arraigned Tuesday in State District Court in Duluth on misdemeanor criminal trespass charges and pleaded not guilty. All seven are expected to appear at pretrial hearings Jan. 28.

Prosecutors for the city were unable to offer any plea agreements Tuesday because court computer systems were down.

The seven are members of several groups organizing against new pipelines and increased pipeline capacity, saying the oil that will be moved in the pipelines should be left in the ground, not burned, to help curb global climate change.

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The groups -- including MN350, Honor the Earth and MPIRG -- also question the potential for oil spills in pristine areas of northern MInnesota.

"We've been following the regulatory process playing by the rules, and it's not working. That process is profoundly dysfunctional," said Thane Maxwell, a community organizer for Honor the Earth and one of the seven arrested last month.  The trespassing was "a way of going into their space and saying, 'What you are doing is wrong.' "

Korey Northrup, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, was part of the Nov. 2 protest but was not one of those arrested. She said Enbridge is disregarding native concerns and treaty rights.

"I will not tolerate not being heard," Northrup said Tuesday at a rally in the Duluth Civic Center just before the court hearing.

Supporters say pipelines are by far the safest way to transport oil long distances and that Enbridge is simply meeting demands for new oil from North American sources such as North Dakota's Bakken oil field and the tar sands of northern Canada.

Enbridge declined to comment on the specific protest Tuesday but issued a prepared statement.

"Enbridge recognizes the rights of people to express their views legally and peacefully, and to discuss Enbridge's business and projects. We encourage active discussions of our operations and projects, as long as those conversations are held in the appropriate forum and are respectful of those who live and work near our pipelines, including our employees and contractors, and of our pipelines and facilities," said Lorraine Little, an Enbridge spokeswoman. "Enbridge will continue to engage in conversations with individuals and communities in areas where we have operations or active projects."

Enbridge has multiple projects currently in the works, including increasing capacity of Canadian oil coming across northern Minnesota and moving more North Dakota oil east. They include the proposed Sandpiper line and Line 3 replacement which are currently working their way through the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission review process.

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John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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