PUC to hear Red Lake, White Earth requests for pipeline delay on Friday
Native Nations, environmental groups, file suit today to block MPCA’s Line 3 permit
Native Americans are bearing a disproportionate burden of the coronavirus pandemic and getting inadequate government support.
It’s true nationally and in Minnesota. Here, Gov. Tim Walz’ administration has put Indigenous lives at risk by failing to delay Enbridge Line 3 construction and the pandemic risks it entails.
The Navajo Nation has faced devastating losses to the pandemic. In May, one in every 43 Navajos been infected, The Guardian reported. With a poor federal response, Doctors Without Borders stepped up, a group that normally works in war zones.
Pine Ridge went into lockdown last month due to a surge in coronavirus infections. Earlier this year, Pine Ridge leaders tried to protect its citizens by imposing road checkpoints to reduce traffic and transmission, only to get push back from the state of South Dakota and the federal government.
On Nov. 18, Governor Tim Walz announced new actions to help control the spread of COVID-19. He put a “four-week pause on social activities, in-person dining, sports, and fitness establishments for four weeks.”
Today, MPR reported that Walz expects to issue “no gather guidance” for Christmas.
Yet the Walz administration seems to have no problem approving Enbridge Line 3 construction. Today, the MPCA issued the final stormwater permits that Enbridge needed to start digging.
Line 3 is expected to require 4,200 construction workers. Roughly half will come from local union halls; workers from outside the area will fill the other half — increasing the risks of coronavirus spread.
The Red Lake and White Earth Nations have petitioned the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for a “stay” or stoppage in construction for several reasons. One is the increased risk of coronavirus.
The PUC will hear their request on Friday at 10 a.m. The PUC has failed to take Indigenous concerns seriously throughout the Line 3 process. Should the PUC reject their request, the Native Nations could appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
The federal government continues to pretend it has no role in a coordinated response to the pandemic. Healing Minnesota Stories emailed the Center for Disease Control asking, “Can you comment on the wisdom of allowing this [Line 3] construction project to start at the same time as the state and the nation are in the middle of another spike in cases? What do CDC guidelines say?”
Here is the answer:
Thank you for contacting us. CDC issue recommendations, but each jurisdiction is responsible for implementing or adjusting them. I suggest you contact the local public health authorities.
In other words: “It’s not our job.”
Healing Minnesota Stories has reached out to other health professionals for comment on Line 3’s pandemic risks, and will print their responses when we receive them.
In other news, the Red Lake and White Earth nations, Honor the Earth, Friends of the Headwaters, and the Sierra Club, filed suit today in the Minnesota Court of Appeals to overturn the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA’s) permits for Line 3.
The MPCA is supposed to be the state’s leading environmental protection agency, but it’s not living up to its mission.
In the litigation filed today, plaintiffs say the MPCA:
- Refused to consider alternative routes for the pipeline that would have substantially reduced negative impacts on Minnesota water quality.
- Refused to consider water quality risks from pipeline operations, e.g. spills.
- Did not consider climate impacts, or impacts on treaty and other tribal rights, despite its legal obligations to do so.
The state and the Court of Appeals should agree to a construction delay, not only because of the pandemic, but legal challenges deserve to be heard before construction starts and the environmental damage is done.