MINNEAPOLIS – A Minnesota regulatory panel on Friday denied a request from two tribes to prevent Enbridge Energy from moving forward with its contentious Line 3 crude oil pipeline replacement, which broke ground this week after receiving its final state permit.
The Red Lake and White Earth Bands of Chippewa asked the independent Public Utilities Commission to stay its earlier approval of the project, citing pending litigation before the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Attorneys for the two northern Minnesota tribes argued that allowing construction to continue would cause irreparable harm should the court rule in their favor.
The commission voted 4-1 to reject the request.
Commissioners said further delaying construction would hurt workers who have already arrived in northern Minnesota, and that the court has the authority to halt construction on its own should it rule in the tribes’ favor. Members also cited Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order designating construction as critical amid the pandemic, and Enbridge's COVID-19 safety protocols.
“I think it would be an unconscionable disregard for the irreparable harm to these workers if the commission grants the motion to stay,” Commissioner Valerie Means said. “I will not support granting the motion to stay and driving these workers into unemployment where work is available, can be done safely, and there's no credible evidence to the contrary.”
Means, Chairwoman Katie Sieben, and Commissioners John Tuma and Joseph Sullivan voted to deny the motion. Commissioner Matthew Schuerger cast the dissenting vote.
Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge began construction on the $2.6 billion project after receiving a construction stormwater permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on Monday, the final obstacle following years of legal challenges and environmental reviews.
The company provided an updated COVID-19 plan on Wednesday that includes on-the-job safety measures that include regular testing and daily health and temperature screenings, as well as off-site protocols for workers to prevent community spread.