COVID-19 experts decline to comment on Enbridge Line 3 construction’s pandemic risks

Healing Minnesota Stories and others are still trying to get clear answers about the coronavirus health risks posed by Line 3 construction. Half of the 4,200 construction workers are expected to come from outside the northern Minnesota area. The influx workers is well underway.

How many more northern Minnesotans will get sick — and die — because of this project?

Some of the state’s leading COVID-19 experts don’t want to touch the question with a ten-foot pole. (That’s a six-foot pole for social distancing, and another four feet for good measure.)

The Red Lake and White Earth nations petitioned the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to delay Line 3’s construction based on its health risks. Native Americans have a higher COVID-19 mortality rate than other Minnesota citizens. The PUC declined their request.
Source: State of Minnesota

Jan Malcolm, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, issued a statement about Line 3 and the pandemic, stating Enbridge had to follow state and industry health safety protocols. Nowhere in her statement does she say that the project won’t increase COVID-19 cases. She closes saying she and the Governor “will continue to closely monitor” the virus’s course and “adjust” as appropriate.

Enbridge’s COVID-19 Prevention Plan states the project “will strive to limit the transmission of COVID-19 to members of the community … ” The phrase “strive to limit” the disease’s spread is an admission that it will spread, and they might or might not be successful.

These are not ringing endorsements for the safety of moving forward with this project.

Healing Minnesota Stories went to the University of Minnesota’s “experts list” to find COVID-19 experts to get comments on the wisdom of allowing this massive construction project to proceed in the middle of a pandemic.

We sent four requests, all four either declined comment or didn’t respond.

University of Minnesota COVID-19 experts. Clockwise from upper left: John Finnegan, Dean and Professor, School of Public Health; Michael Osterholm, Regents Professor, Division of Environmental Health Sciences; Medical School Dean Dean Jakub Tolar; and Prof. Larry Jacobs, health policy expert, Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Photos: U of M

This is a consequential issue, with people’s lives at stake. Minnesota residents deserve better answers than we have received so far.

There are several reasons experts might not respond to Healing Minnesota Stories’ Line 3 question.

  • Healing Minnesota Stories is a small blog. Busy people might not feel they have the time to respond. If that’s the case, it’s important that other publications push for answers.
  • Maybe they feel hesitant to step into the political arena and contradict the Governor’s and Health Department’s decisions. (If they agreed with Gov. Tim Walz and Commissioner Jan Malcolm, there would be less problems speaking out.)
  • Maybe they didn’t feel they had the expertise. But if they don’t, who does? Why would we allow this project to proceed if we really don’t know the health risks?

Healing Minnesota emailed the University’s Medical School to ask Dean Jakub Tolar about the wisdom of allowing Line 3 construction to start at the same time as the state and the nation are in the middle of another coronavirus spike.

Medical School response: “We do not have the expertise to comment on this specific topic. We do think what you are after though is more in the public health realm, rather than in the field of medicine.”

Healing Minnesota Stories emailed John Finnegan, Dean and Professor, School of Public Health, Twin Cities, and Michael Osterholm, Regents Professor, Division of Environmental Health Sciences, in the School of Public Health, and member of President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board.

Finnegan’s staff responded: “I heard back from the Dean’s communicator and unfortunately he won’t be able to field your request.”

Osterholm’s staff said he was too busy for an interview, nor did he have time to answer the question by email: “His schedule is completely full, so he will need to take a pass.”

Larry Jacobs, professor and health policy expert for the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, did not respond to emails.

Meanwhile, front-line health professionals are more than ready to speak out. Some held a media conference outside the Governor’s mansion earlier this month, expressing their deep concern for the coronavirus spread that could result from Line 3’s influx of out-of-state construction workers.

“I am asking Gov. [Tim] Walz to issue a stay on Line 3 construction as a COVID -19 mitigation measure,” said Dr. Laalitha Surapaneni, a Twin Cities physician specializing in internal medicine who has been on the medical front lines battling COVID-19 since last spring. “Enbridge plans to move 4,000 workers to start construction this winter into temporary housing across construction sites in rural Minnesota.” …

“These are perfect conditions for the virus to spread and harm us,” she said.

StarTribune Dec, 2, 2020

If Healing Minnesota Stories gets further responses, we will post them.

We’ve written this before but it bears repeating: The Minnesota Department of Commerce is in the Minnesota Court of Appeals right now arguing to rescind Line 3 permits because Enbridge failed to show Line 3 is needed. Why is the state allowing any health risks at all for a project that isn’t needed?

2 thoughts on “COVID-19 experts decline to comment on Enbridge Line 3 construction’s pandemic risks

  1. I’m not sure they have any shame, Scott.

    The Walz administration seems to be able to ignore the citizens of their state asking for protection… for years now, as we’ve begged for SCIENCE to rule their decision-making.

    They couldn’t understand that wiping trees off the map was so obviously going to harm water quality. And putting poison-carrying pipelines – that ALWAYS leak – into the cleanest water-rich lands of Minnesota was a dumb idea because humans require water to live.

    Is there any chance, during this pandemic, that they will recognize the horror of wiping humans off the map as well?


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