PUC ignores Line 3’s COVID concerns, buys into Enbridge’s flawed pandemic plan

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) today rejected requests from the Red Lake and White Earth nations to delay construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline.

Further, the tribes said the arrival of out-of-town construction workers would increase the spread of COVID.

Further, the tribes and other intervenors have cases pending in the Minnesota Court of Appeals trying to reverse Line 3 approvals. The issues range from Line 3’s climate damage and treaty rights to the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s argument that Enbridge failed to prove this pipeline is needed.

The tribes argued that if the PUC didn’t delay Line 3 construction, the environmental damage would be done before the court reaches a decision, which would be unfair.

In a 4-1 vote, the PUC rejected the request for a “stay” in construction. Commissioner Matt Schuerger was the lone vote in favor of the stay. He called the tribe’s arguments “persuasive and critically important.”

Red Lake and White Earth are expected to appeal the PUC’s decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Gov. Walz hasn’t taken an official position on Line 3. If there was any question that he’s a closet Line 3 backer, the vote helped clarify it. Both PUC commissioners that Walz appointed in the past two years — Valerie Means (2019) and Joseph Sullivan (2020) — voted against the tribes and a construction delay.

Source: Enbridge

Winona LaDuke, co-founder of Honor the Earth, issued the following statement after the PUC vote:

“The PUC’s predictable actions today again demonstrate that the regulatory process in Minnesota is brazenly pro-oil industry. The Commission’s denial of the stay is an attempt to stop the Appellate court from hearing our claims and the claims of the Department of Commerce that a new pipeline is not needed.”

In a letter to the PUC prior to the vote, White Earth wrote:

The project would bring approximately 4,200 workers into direct proximity to our communities to our Reservation and rural communities. This poses a significant problem to the health and well being to tribal members. Beginning the project at the start of winter along with the flu season and a predicted COVID peak creates a substantial increase of a devastating COVID-19 outbreak on the Reservation.

Workers are arriving, and beginning to cut trees and do other work in preparation for trenching, which is supposed to start soon.

Under questioning before the PUC, Kevin Pranis of the trade union LIUNA said one thousand workers would be in place this week, and 2,000 would be working by next week. Anna Friedlander, an attorney for the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the US and Canada, AFL-CIO, said the union currently had about 250 members at sites and it would go up to 615.

The PUC’s newest Commissioners Joseph Sullivan and Valerie Means.

IN a baffling decision, a majority of the commissioners said the needs of workers and other factors outweighed the Native nations’ concerns about rising COVID infections and the importance of resolving pending litigation before Line 3 work could begin.

In explaining his opposition to a construction delay, Commissioner Sullivan said:

In the balancing of the harms to the parties, my mind goes to the hundreds of workers, the soon to be thousands of workers, in northern Minnesota already working on the project. These workers have in many cases moved to northern Minnesota to work on Line 3. They have utilized their own resources getting to the job site. They have signed contracts for long-term housing They are reliant on the project for their health care and their health insurance. And these folks could be sent home. That’s a real harm to many, many people.

Joseph Sullivan

Commissioner Means rejected the assertions that construction workers “will recklessly spread COVID 19,” saying they were unsupported and unfounded.

Question: Does the financial well being of out-of-state workers outweigh the health of northern Minnesota residents, particularly Native Americans who face disproportionate harm from the disease?

Source: State of Minnesota

Defending the status quo, Means said Enbridge has a detailed COVID-19 plan to prevent exposure and respond to infections. “Construction workers are already working on this project, and in my view, this is beneficial for Minnesota’s economy, especially during the pandemic,” she said.

On Nov. 24, Enbridge released an updated version of its COVID-19 Preparedness Plan. While Enbridge added a few more pages. Still, it reads more like a plan to make a plan than something detailed and substantial.

On the last page, Enbridge discusses its “Monitoring and Compliance” measures. This is the critical enforcement and accountability piece.

6.1 OBJECTIVE

The objective of a monitoring program is to hold all Project workers accountable, and to ensure contractors and personnel are adhering to the procedures and protocols in this Plan.

Further, it is to set realistic compliance goals to objectively assess our success from a COVID safety perspective

Enbridge’s COVID-19 Plan

Comment: Does this really count as a “detailed plan”? Enbridge doesn’t say what the compliance goals are, just that it will set them. We’ve been dealing with COVID for nine months. Why doesn’t Enbridge already have these goals in place?

6.2 METRICS TO MONITOR COMPLIANCE

The Project commits to establishing compliance metrics that demonstrate the effectiveness of the Plan. The metrics will cover key performance indicators on rate of infections, testing and contact tracing.

Enbridge’s COVID-19 Plan

Comment: Again, Enbridge doesn’t have compliance metrics. It’s promising to establish compliance metrics. If Enbridge was serious about this work, such metrics would have been in place and available for public scrutiny months ago.

Photo from pipeline equipment storage yard near Backus, taken in October. Note the lack of social distancing and masks.

6.3 PENALTIES

Non-compliance with COVID-19 protocols will be addressed with the following:

•Verbal reminder
•Written warning
•Additional training on COVID Protocols
•Removal from project for 10 days
•Permanent removal from Enbridge Project

Enbridge’s COVID-19 Plan

Comment: OK, that’s it. Those three sections are the sum total of Enbridge’s “Monitoring and Compliance” plan for COVID-19. It doesn’t say how the company or contractors will monitor compliance, who is responsible for monitoring, or provide any details for how they will carry it out. Note: A worker has to violate the protocols four times before they face any real consequences.

Update: Just looking at Facebook and found a friend who posted this photo from Line 3 construction site in the Clearbrook/Bagley area.

From Enbridge’s COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, page 5: “Practice physical distancing during work activities when reasonably possible: Always maintain 6-foot separation of workers.”

Here’s an image submitted by a Watch the Line volunteer from a construction site where Line 3 crosses into the western edge of St. Louis County.

From Enbridge’s COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, page 5: “Practice physical distancing during work activities when reasonably possible: Always maintain 6-foot separation of worker.” … “Face coverings are required at all times in outdoor spaces where individuals may not be able to physically distance.”

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