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Pipe segments sit at Enbridge's terminal in Superior, Wisc., on June 29, 2018.

The Associated Press

Enbridge Energy began construction on its Line 3 crude oil pipeline replacement in Minnesota on Tuesday, a day after state regulators approved the final permit for the $2.6 billion project amid legal challenges from local activist and Indigenous groups.

Spokeswoman Juli Kellner said Enbridge began construction in several locations around the state in the morning. Enbridge spent years pursuing permits for the project before the last one, a construction stormwater permit, was granted Monday by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

“Line 3 can now begin to be an economic boost for counties, small businesses, Native American communities, and union members,” Kellner said in a statement. “The work force will ramp up as construction continues eventually creating over 4,000 family-sustaining, mostly local construction jobs, millions of dollars in local spending and additional tax revenues at a time when Northern Minnesota needs it most.”

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Two tribes – the Red Lake and White Earth Bands of Chippewa – asked the PUC last week to stay its approval of the project, saying the influx of construction workers would put residents along the route at higher risk of COVID-19. A consolidated appeal by environmental and tribal groups is also pending before the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Several activists and Indigenous groups filed a lawsuit Monday evening challenging the MPCA’s permit approval, citing the pipeline’s threat to waters where Native Americans harvest wild rice and negative effect on climate change.

Enbridge said replacing the deteriorating pipeline, which was built in the 1960s and runs at only half its original capacity, is the best option for protecting the environment while meeting the region’s energy needs.

Kellner said Enbridge has enacted strict guidelines to guard against spread of the coronavirus, including testing workers regularly and repeatedly, requiring mask-wearing and social distancing and sanitizing work areas regularly.

In a statement on Tuesday, Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth, said Enbridge will continue to see legal challenges from activists and Indigenous groups to “prevent this tar sands pipeline from ever being completed.”

“As construction begins, some big questions need to be asked: What if the Appeals Court sides against Enbridge in the legal cases before it? What if the new Biden administration squashes this pipeline? What is Enbridge’s plan if its work force gets corona?” LaDuke said. “Its `safety’ plan doesn’t address what its workers do or where they go when they’re not on the job.”

Line 3 begins in Alberta, Canada, and clips a corner of North Dakota before crossing Minnesota on its way to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. The replacement segments in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin are already complete, leaving only the 337-mile (542-kilometre) stretch in Minnesota. Altogether Enbridge expects to spend $2.9 billion on the U.S. portion.

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President-elect Joe Biden says he will rejoin the Paris Agreement, reversing President Trump’s 2017 announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from the international effort to address climate change. Sarah Petrevan from Clean Energy Canada and The Globe’s Adam Radwanski discuss the global implications. Visit tgam.ca/climate-live for the full conversation.

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