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Diver who helped after I-35W bridge collapse returns medals in protest of Line 3 pipeline

He gave them back "as an act of desperation, and because I saw no other way to help bring the necessary urgency and attention to this matter."
john miller

A Navy Diver who helped recover victims of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis 14 years ago has returned the honors he received in protest of Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline. 

John Miller, who lived in Minnesota for 29 years and now lives in Maui, Hawaii, returned the medals during an event Monday alongside the Red Lake Treaty Camp representing the Red Lake Nation. The event was held near the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis.

Miller's unit led the charge in retrieving the bodies of people missing after the bridge collapsed on Aug. 1, 2007, in what became known as the "sacred mission." He was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal by the Secretary of Defense, and from Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty he received the Minnesota Commendation Ribbon with Pendant and a Certificate of Commendation.

Miller in a news release said in "good conscience" he can "no longer keep" the awards from the State of Minnesota, noting he's doing this in defense of Minnesota's lands, the Mississippi River and the people of Minnesota to "raise critical public awareness about the disastrous effects of the Line 3 pipeline."

"I must humbly return them to best maintain the spirit, integrity, and character for which they were awarded ... as an act of desperation, and because I saw no other way to help bring the necessary urgency and attention to this matter," Miller said. 

In a letter to Gov. Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison and the state Supreme Court, Miller asks Walz to issue an executive order to put an "immediate stay on the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement project construction until the lawsuits challenging its approval play out in court."

He asks Ellison to take a public stance against Line 3 in support of Ojibwe treaty rights, and asks the state Supreme Court to "vote without delay to accept the case in the matter of the application of Enbridge Energy ... for a certificate of need and a routing permit for the proposed Line 3 replacement project."

"I close this letter with the utmost respect and divine hope that given the right opportunity, clarity, and spirit, you will all take the most appropriate action to bring healing to these past injustices and protect our future generations from an impending disaster. As an act of desperation, and because I saw no other way to help bring the necessary urgency and attention to this matter, I humbly and despairingly return both my Medal and my Award from the State and Governor of Minnesota," Miller said. 

Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline, after a years-long review and permitting process, got the approvals it needed last fall to begin construction in December 2020 on a Line 3 replacement pipeline. It will carry crude oil from the tar fields in Canada to Superior, Wisconsin, via 337 miles in northern Minnesota. Once the oil pipeline is complete — likely by the end of this year — it will carry millions of gallons of oil per day.

Related [Aug. 11]: MPCA: 28 drilling fluid releases during Line 3 construction, including into wetlands

The Line 3 project has proved a controversial one, dividing those who want the jobs boost that such a construction project would bring – backed by many state Republicans – with those who fear the potential environmental risk of a pipeline cutting through areas of natural beauty and watersheds, including through wetlands and near the headwaters of the Mississippi River, as well as those who seek a shift away from fossil fuels.

There have also been renewed calls for the project to be blocked in the wake of the dire circumstances spelled out in the UN's latest climate change report, which calls for a swift and significant reduction in carbon emissions to prevent further catastrophe.

Enbridge has stressed the pipeline is safe.

Indigenous tribes and environmentalists have been protesting the pipeline for months and have filed numerous lawsuits against the project, some of which have not gone through the entire legal process. 

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