Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan issued a “Coronavirus Response and Preparation” update Friday that said: “As COVID-19 has exacerbated racial, economic, and educational inequities, the Walz-Flanagan Administration has prioritized the safety of our most vulnerable workers, families, and communities.”
Al Monaco, president and CEO of Enbridge, has said he believes construction on Line 3 could start this summer. Yet the pandemic isn’t going to be over by the summer. An influx of workers risks bringing more coronavirus cases to northern Minnesota. Line 3 runs near the White Earth and Red Lake reservations and through the Fond du Lac Reservation. Those communities have more than their share of health problems and their members would be more vulnerable to the virus.
In the worst-case scenario where Enbridge gets all the state permits it needs, the Walz administration needs to intervene to stop construction. With the current oil glut, there’s no public urgency for Line 3 construction to move forward.
Several court challenges will be filed soon to try to reverse the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC’s) Line 3 approvals, so Monaco’s words could become moot.
Still, if Enbridge gets all its needed permits and pushes ahead, it would mean an influx of 4,200 workers along the pipeline route. Half of those workers would come from outside the area, including out-of-state workers. In all likelihood, that would bring more coronavirus cases to the state.
The Star Tribune reported Friday that the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is preparing for a surge in coronavirus cases. It notes that Fond du Lac members, like other Native Americans, “have higher rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes — conditions that can make a coronavirus infection more severe and more likely fatal.”
This same conversation is going on around the country. Dakota Elder Faith Spotted Eagle wrote the following in an April email:
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.
Tribes and environmental groups are pressing a federal judge to halt KXL construction.
The Roanoke Times ran an Op/Ed from a farmer explaining why some West Virginia residents are trying to delay construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline for the same reason: to slow the coronavirus spread. The author wrote:
The protection of the at-risk population, elderly, disabled and/or immune compromised people is critical. It is well documented that people living in rural areas are in generally poorer health, have less access to healthcare and will suffer more from this virus.
The same could be said for communities in northern Minnesota.
The pandemic also has interrupted our democratic processes. White Earth Nation chairman Michael Fairbanks wrote to Gov. Walz earlier this year, asking him to direct the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to deny Line 3’s water quality permits, allowing Enbridge to refile after the health crisis passes. This would allow time for meaningful engagement the Governor had promised to Native Nations.
Ten state attorney generals, including Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, sent a letter Thursday to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asking it to postpone any additional pipeline approvals during the pandemic. They argue the delay is needed to protect pipeline opponents’ rights to organize and lobby. They wrote:
To preserve the due process rights of parties during this unprecedented time, and to ensure that the communities that will ultimately be burdened by any approvals are sufficiently heard, the State Attorneys General respectfully request that the Commission impose an immediate moratorium on all new approvals of fossil-fuel infrastructure projects.
Surely, a similar logic applies to the review of Enbridge Line 3’s water crossing permits currently before the MPCA. The agency should delay or deny approval of the Line 3 permits under review.