Michael Fairbanks, chairman of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, has written Gov. Tim Walz reminding him of his promise of “meaningful consultation” with Native Nations, and urging him to intervene on a key Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline permit. In the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, he’s asking Walz to direct the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to deny Line 3’s water quality permit, allowing Enbridge to refile after the health crisis passes. This would allow time for meaningful engagement.
It’s the latest example of efforts to stop environmentally damaging projects that are moving forward while much of the country is being required to stay at home.
White Earth claims treaty-protected rights to hunt, fish, and gather on the lands it ceded to the U.S. government in 1855 — lands the Line 3 crude oil pipeline would threaten. (Green-shaded area on the map at right is the 1855 Treaty Territory.) Line 3 poses a great environmental threat to traditional Ojibwe food sources, such as wild rice, fish and maple syrup, Fairbanks said.
The MPCA is reviewing Enbridge’s application for Line 3’s water quality permit, technically called a Section 401 Permit (a reference to Section 401 of the Clean Water Act). The MPCA is in the middle of a public comment period, but due to the coronoavirus outbreak, it has cancelled public hearings where agency officials would have to hear people’s opposition to Line 3 face to face.
Fairbanks and many others are concerned how the current health care crisis is limiting public engagement on key government decisions. It’s of particular concern to White Earth, which has a government-to-government relationship with Minnesota.
The MPCA provided only a token response to public pressure to change its schedule to accommodate public engagement. The MPCA extended its comment period by one week and will offer three telephone “Town Hall” conferences.
Fairbanks challenged Gov. Walz to live up to the commitment he made to improve relationships with Native Nations. In his letter to Walz, he wrote:
The Pollution Control Agency scheduling telephone town hall meetings and a one-week extension on the comment period is not really providing for Consultation, Coordination, and Cooperation under Executive Order 19-24. Too often tribal members do not have the time, resources and ability to electronically participate in a meaningful way and prefer public hearings to speak to share their concerns.
Fairbanks was referring to the Executive Order Walz issued last summer, which reads in part:
“This order ensures the State of Minnesota and the eleven tribes engage in true government-to-government relationships built on respect, understanding, and sovereignty,” said Governor Walz. “We are committed to meaningful consultation with the tribal communities in our state.” (Emphasis in original.)
We will post Walz’ response if it’s made public.
In related news, this email just in from Faith Spotted Eagle through #NoKXL Promise to Protect.
Right now, TC Energy, with the backing of Homeland Security, is moving forward with construction of Keystone XL amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic. As a Dakota elder who has been fighting Keystone XL for 12 years, I firmly continue to protect my community and uphold our Treaty rights, like we successfully did against Dakota Access last week.
TC Energy (TransCanada) is trying to take advantage of the crisis we are in right now. Trump’s “Homeland Security” just classified Keystone XL “essential work” and they are rushing to start construction, putting Indigenous and rural communities at risk of the COVID-19 pandemic. I ask you to remember whose Homeland this is. Our elders and youth are the treasures of our culture and they are at risk – that’s why I’m asking you to help us stop construction activity immediately. …
Our communities are already extremely vulnerable to the increased violence against women and girls when worker “man camps” are built near our reservations. And now we’re also being put at a greater risk of getting the coronavirus with an influx of workers coming to our territories. Hospitals and Indian Health Services along the proposed Keystone XL route are already ill-equipped to deal with the coronavirus public health threat. It is imperative that we are not further marginalized in this desecration of our humanity.
Note: There is no urgency to build Keystone XL. Canadian crude oil prices have fallen to around $5 a barrel, far below profitable levels.
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