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Police use pepper spray and tear gas to push demonstrators back as they try to cross a creek on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, to prevent construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Police use pepper spray and tear gas to push demonstrators back as they try to cross a creek on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, to prevent construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Morton County Sheriff's Office/TNS)

MINNEAPOLIS (Tribune News Service) — A former U.S. Navy diver who helped efforts to search for bodies in the Mississippi River after the I-35W bridge collapsed returned his awards Monday to protest the Line 3 oil pipeline.

John Miller, 39, of Monticello asked Gov. Tim Walz to issue an immediate stay on construction of the pipeline replacement project until lawsuits challenging its approval play out in court. At the Stone Arch Bridge with about three dozen supporters early Monday evening, he also asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to vote on the related cases before it in a timely manner.

Earlier in the day, the Minnesota native returned a commendation ribbon and pendant from the Minnesota Department of Military Affairs and a certificate of commendation from then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Miller said he grew up fishing and hunting and wants the pristine lands in northern Minnesota to be left alone for generations to come to enjoy it.

"The last time I came back to the Mississippi in distress was to help clean up after a disaster and this time I come to do everything I can do to help prevent a disaster," he said.

Opponents say the new Line 3 will open a new region of Minnesota waterways to oil spill degradation and exacerbate climate change. Enbridge says the new pipeline, which replaces its aging and corroding current Line 3, is a safety enhancement and will restore the full flow of oil.

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