April 8, 2020

Indigenous leaders, environmental groups call for suspension of Line 3 permitting process 

MPCA sending conflicting messages during crisis, groups say

Tribal leaders and environmental groups in Minnesota are criticizing a Pollution Control Agency decision to allow a permitting process for the controversial Line 3 pipeline to proceed even as the agency halts a review for another project because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agency last week announced it would suspend a rule-making process around the adoption of Clean Car Standards. The standards are intended to decrease pollution and increase the availability of electric vehicles in Minnesota. “Public engagement is critical to the rulemaking process and all of the MPCA’s work,” the agency said in announcing the suspension. “We want to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to be heard before decisions are made”

On the same day, however, the agency reminded Minnesotans in a Facebook post that the public comment period for Line 3 was continuing, with only a one-week delay, and  that comments would be collected electronically rather than in public meetings. The meetings were intended to inform the agency’s decision on permits needed by Enbridge Energy to build its massive Line 3 pipeline across bodies of water in Northern Minnesota.

Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth, said increased health risks clearly justify a longer suspension. “The tar sands oil industry is crashing, and Enbridge has a potential plan to send 4,300 workers into Northern Minnesota to build Line 3 on the heels of the COVID-19 crisis. There is a definite need to extend the public comment period on PCA permits much longer than just a week; it’s the right thing to do. Minnesota doesn’t need to be liable for a stranded asset. We’re under enough duress.”

Andy Pearson of the climate justice group MN350 pointed to what he called a blatant double standard. “It’s wildly inconsistent for the PCA to cite the need for public engagement as a reason to stop one review process but to disregard that need somewhere else.”

Minnesota’s leaders recognize that state residents are focused on keeping their families and communities healthy, Pearson said. “With a public health crisis that has caused the closure of schools and businesses and put regular life on pause for many people, now is not the time to make hasty environmental decisions that will threaten our climate, waters, and communities for generations. We’re all clearly occupied with the immediate crisis. Why would you not suspend permitting on Line 3 until you can safely gather public input in person?”

Nancy Beaulieu, MN350’s Northern Minnesota organizer and an enrolled member of the Leech Lake reservation, also faulted Canadian oil giant Enbridge Energy for its failure to request a suspension. “Shame on Enbridge for trying to profit during the public’s misery,” she said.

MN350 is one of 28 environmental groups that have appealed to Gov. Walz to instruct the PCA to stop environmental reviews during the pandemic. In a joint letter last week, the groups also cited the recent steep drop in oil prices.

“Once markets have stabilized, there may be new realities about which projects are economically feasible as well as new priorities for government staff time and resources,” the groups said. “Pressing forward with new industrial permits in these times is not only unfair to Minnesota’s public, particularly those in less advantaged communities, but may also defy basic common sense.”



MN350 is a statewide group with 20,000 supporters working to make Minnesota a national leader in a just transition to a clean energy economy. MN350 Action is its political and advocacy arm.