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Minnesotans demand environmental accountability from Manitoba Hydro
News from Indian Country, Hayward WI, mid-March 2000, p10A

Cross Lake, Manitoba (ICC) -- Northern States Power is the largest American purchaser of electricity generated by the five dams and reservoirs built on the Nelson River in northern Manitoba. One of these dams is ten miles from Cross Lake, home of Pimicikamak Cree Nation. The massive hydroproject was built by Manitoba Hydro, a state-owned utility in Canada.

"We suffer from the upstream impacts as well as the downstream impacts," said Councillor Kenny Miswaggon in a phone interview. "Flooding the land to create the reservoirs caused methylmercury pollution. The water released from Lake Winnipeg upstream into our Nelson River powers the turbines, but at the same time the force of the water and its fluctuations cause devastating erosion."

Flooding the land to create reservoirs destroyed the Cree way of life, one which was based on hunting, fishing and trapping. Adults who once sustained their families today have little or nothing to do, and the community's unemployment rate is estimated at 85-90 percent. "Our youth want to come back after graduation," said Coucillor Miswaggon, who is thirty years old. "As an elected official, what can I promise them?"

In Minnesota, eight state legislators are sponsors of the Hydro Review Bill, filed last month. The legislation requires that out-of-state hydroelectric facilities submit the same environmental assessment information now expected of in-state facilities.

"Non-Minnesota utilities would no longer be exempt form revealing the true impacts of their operation," said Diane Peterson, a grassroots energy activist who supports the bill's passage. "We need to see impact assessments to determine whether Minnesota is participating in avoidable environmental destruction when it buys hydroelectricity produced beyond our borders."

She asks, "What's the point of preserving habitats and species in Minnesota if we're going to turn a blind eye to what's happening in the north?"

Manitoba Hydro is one of Northern States Power's preferred suppliers to sell more electricity to Minnesota. Activists have begun a letter-writing campaign to the Public Utilities Commission, objecting to more damaging imports from Canada.

"Despite strenuous objections, NSP finally built 400 megawatts of windpower in southwest Minnesota and there's enough wind to deliver another 800 megawatts. It proves that our utilities can find alternatives to mega-hydro," commented an astute observer. "You've got to hand it to the grassroots. They're doing their homework and they're not afraid to challenge the powers that be."

North American Water Office in Lake Elmo, a grassoots-based group with years of experience supporting better energy choices, has joined with the environmental studies program at the University of St. Thomas to present a conference on Saturday, April 15. "The purpose is to get more people talking and to learn about the human and environmental impacts of large, central-station generation," said George Crocker, NAWO's executive director.

Crocker expects a large contingent of activists to attend the event at the new downtown Minneapolis campus of St. Thomas. "We've been working with Wisconsin activists, and the LCO and Mole Lake tribes to block a 260-mile transmission line from Duluth to Wausau that would ship cheap coal and hydro electricity through Minnesota and Wisconsin," Crocker said.

"We need to discuss in detail what kind of energy policy and choices we all want for the Midwest."

For more information: North American Water Office: 651-770-3861; gwillc@mtn.org

For more information about Pimicikamak Cree Nation: 612-871-8404; stewartship@visi.com