Indigenous tribes urge federal officials to deny loan request for Superior natural gas plant


MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Indigenous tribes in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin have asked federal officials to deny a utility’s request for a loan to help build a natural gas-fired power plant on the shores of Lake Superior, calling the project unthinkable in the face of climate change.

Chippewa tribes located across the northern third of the three states sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture officials on Sunday asking them to deny Dairyland Power Cooperative’s request for a $350 million public loan. The request is intended to cover the utility’s share of the cost of building the Nemadji Trail Energy Center power plant.

“As our shared climate rapidly continues to destabilize, it is unconscionable that Dairyland Power Cooperative has not canceled its request for a $350 million public loan and permits to build Nemadji Trail Energy Center,” the tribes said in the letter. It added later, “In short, this location was never the place, and now is obviously not the time, to build new fossil fuel infrastructure of any kind.”

Dairyland Power Cooperative, Minnesota Power and Basin Electric Cooperative have been working to gain permission to build the $700 million power plant for more than three years. Plans call for the facility to be built near an Enbridge Energy pipeline hub on the banks of the Nemadji River, which flows into Lake Superior, in the city of Superior, Wisconsin.

The utilities say using natural gas is a flexible means of producing electricity when wind and solar aren’t available and would serve as an alternative producer as utilities shut down coal-fired plants. The utilities hope the plant will be online by 2027.

The Chippewa tribes — including the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Michigan, the Fond du Lac of Minnesota and the Bad River and Red Cliff of Wisconsin — said in their letter that “there is no version of physical reality on Mother Earth” that building such a plant when greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced serves the public interest. They added that the environmentally sensitive lakeshore is no place for such infrastructure.

The tribes also noted that the new plant would be situated near a cemetery where about 180 Fond du Lac tribal members are buried in a mass grave. Building the plant there would disrespect the dead, the letter said.

USDA officials didn’t immediately respond to an email Monday evening seeking comment.

Dairyland Power spokesperson Katie Thomson said in an email to The Associated Press that the plant would be a key to the transition to clean energy and the utilities have sought input from the tribes and other stakeholders throughout the permitting process.

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