Bob Mercer reposts Senator Lee Schoenbeck’s notes on the Governor’s Thursday night conference call with legislators about the action coming on our amazing, historic, online Veto-Plus Day. As usual, Schoenbeck’s commentary is enlightening.
I focus on just one aspect of the Lake Kampeska Senator’s jottings, his notes on Brookings Senator VJ Smith’s concerns about Keystone XL pipeline protests and the coronavirus:
Sen VJ Smith asked first question about affect of pipeline construction on medical facilities in pierre, chamberlain and winner’s health care if protestors from around country bring virus. Gov said she’s talking to the company [Senator Lee Schoenbeck, quoted in Bob Mercer, “S.D. Legislators Post Reports About Call with Governor Planning Final Day of 2020 Session,” KELO-TV, 2020.03.27].
Senator Smith raises a valid question: given that we are quite sensibly shutting down schools and businesses to prevent gatherings of more than ten people within six feet of each other, could we shut down a public gathering of picketers demonstrating against Keystone XL or any other object of protest?
Remember, Governor Kristi Noem has declared a statewide state of emergency, which gives her the power for the next six months to restrict travel into, within, and out of the entire state and to disperse any gathering anywhere in South Dakota. So the short answer is, yes, the Governor could shut down any protest in the state for the next six months, even if it’s just three hippies sitting on the hood of their Prius out somewhere in Jones County making armpit-fart noises in the general direction of the Black Snake construction crews.
But wait a minute: what about those construction crews? Those fellas will come from a variety of states in big groups to fell our trees, slurp our water, and wink at our women. And hundreds of them will gather in crowded man camps with temporary hygiene facilities. Hundreds will swarm the bars and restaurants and grocery stores of rural communities that aren’t used to seeing a lot of visitors.
If you ask me, Keystone XL is turning into one giant disease vector driving right through West River. How can we fret about possible pipeline protestors coughing and sneezing on us while welcoming the pipeline builders and all their cooties?
We’re taking a lot of actions in response to coronavirus that are of questionable Constitutionality. Whether the Governor can order any crowd of citizens assembled peaceably to disperse is an extremely sensitive question. But if she can exercise that power for the sake of public health, she can’t pick and choose whom she disperses, especially not if that picking and choosing is based on what those assembled are saying. If Senator Smith sees a public health risk in citizens gathering to protest Keystone XL, he must see an equal health risk in people gathering to build Keystone XL.
If Senator Smith and the Governor are worried that Keystone XL protests could lead to the spread of coronavirus in South Dakota, they can support one simple, Constitutional action: suspend the Keystone XL construction permit for the duration of the coronavirus state of emergency.
- TransCanada/TC Energy is bringing a hundred workers “from all over the country” to Phillips and Valley counties in Montana to work on Keystone XL. Valley Countyis ordering new arrivals to self-quarantine for two weeks. They’re staying in RVs and local motels.
- Several tribes are suing in federal court for an injunction against the start of Keystone XL construction on concerns about spread of coronavirus in Indian Country. TransCanada/TC Energy says that argument is “invalid because tribes never raised these concerns during public comment periods in 2014 and 2019.”
- TC’s fellow black-snakers Energy Transfer Partners is using coronavirus as cover to rush construction while protests are stymied by coronavirus concerns.