Meet the young activists fighting Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline

Youth climate interveners and pipeline opponents debrief together.
A group of pipeline opponents and Youth Climate Intervenors including Brent Murcia, center left, and Akilah Sanders-Reed, center right, gather to debrief after a day of hearings regarding the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota in downtown St. Paul on Wednesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Much of the debate over Enbridge Energy's Line 3 oil pipeline proposal has been framed as environmental issues against jobs and oil needs.

But for a group of 13 young people calling themselves the Youth Climate Intervenors, it's much bigger than that.

Here's their case: All the oil Enbridge's replacement pipeline would carry across Minnesota would exacerbate climate change — and the youngest among us will suffer the effects the most.

Young people are leading the fight against the pipeline, said 23-year-old Brent Murcia. "And that makes sense, because it's our fight. We are here to be a voice for the future."

Enbridge wants to replace its aging Line 3 pipeline with a new one along a different route through northern Minnesota's lakes, forests and wetlands. Supporters say it'll bring jobs and private investment, and opponents say we don't need any more oil here and that the environmental risks are too great.

An administrative law judge is weighing all evidence and public input now, preparing for a decision to come in spring.

In July, the Youth Climate Intervenors — who range in age from 16 to 23 — were granted official party status in the pipeline case.

Frances Wetherall shed tears of joy last summer when she saw the news on Facebook.

"My first reaction was complete shock, because I had wanted this so badly but I honestly didn't expect it to be given to us," she said.

Official party status gives the group a strong voice in hearings. For example, Murcia found himself cross-examining one of Enbridge's experts last week.

"In some sense it's intimidating, but in another sense it feels really powerful," he said.

Navigating legal and administrative processes hasn't been easy for this group, especially for those juggling school or work.

"I've pulled multiple all-nighters — I'm not alone in that," Murcia said.

We won't find out until next spring if the Youth Climate Intervenors' arguments stop the pipeline from getting a greenlight.

But their story is being told and shared. They've been featured in The Nation and Teen Vogue.

Even if Line 3 is eventually approved, the Youth Climate Intervenors are seen as an inspiration, said author Geoff Dembicki, who wrote "Are We Screwed?" in which he profiled young people across the U.S. and Canada engaged in a variety of strategies to fight climate change.

"The young people who read about that and hear about this struggle will be thinking to themselves, 'Well, what kind of society do I want to live in?'" Dembicki said.

Climate Intervenor Sarah Harper, 21, hopes it won't be the last time young people are taken seriously in a process normally dominated by lawyers.

"We proved that we have a right to be there and that we can hold our own," she said.

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