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Walz administration to continue legal challenge to Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline project

MinnPost photo by Walker Orenstein
A group of faith and indigenous leaders gathered Friday at the Capitol to protest Line 3.

Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday said his administration would continue legal action started by his predecessor Mark Dayton to challenge the construction of a northern Minnesota oil pipeline, siding with environmentalists, tribes and many DFLers in the governor’s first major decision on the future of a natural resources project.

Walz said his office would file a petition with the Public Utilities Commission asking the independent regulators to reconsider approving a critical Certificate of Need for Enbridge’s Line 3. That petition is expected to be rejected, but it’s the first step toward filing a lawsuit over the $2.6 billion crude oil line plan.

The governor and his Department of Commerce had been mulling whether to drop Dayton’s appeal after taking office, but ultimately decided to stay the course after the lawsuit was thrown out last week for being filed too early. In a written statement Tuesday morning, Walz didn’t say he personally opposed Line 3, but acknowledged Enbridge has yet to win over many people concerned the project will help accelerate global warming and pose a spill risk to water and wild rice.

“As I often say, projects like these don’t only need a building permit to go forward, they also need a social permit,” Walz said. “Our administration has met with groups on all sides of this issue, and Minnesotans deserve clarity.”

Enbridge wants to build Line 3 as a replacement for an old and corroding 1960s-era pipeline running through Minnesota on its way from Edmonton to Superior, Wisconsin. It’s one of several that cut through the region.

The 34-inch pipeline is running at about half its normal capacity, and the Calgary-based company worries it’s a safety risk. The PUC, whose members were all appointed by Dayton, cited safety as a priority when unanimously approving the Certificate of Need for Line 3. The planned 36-inch pipeline would carry about 760,000 barrels of oil each day on a different route through northern Minnesota, passing through the Mississippi headwaters, land on which tribes retain hunting and gathering rights and treasured lake country.

“Replacing an aging pipeline with new, modern construction, is the safest and best option for protecting the environment and communities,” Juli Kellner, a spokeswoman for Enbridge, told MinnPost in an email on Monday. In a Tuesday follow up, Kellner said Walz’s decision was “unfortunate” given the “thorough” review the Line 3 has faced.

Supporters of the project have argued that failing to build Line 3 would result in more oil trains, rather than less oil moving through Minnesota. (Some dispute that.) The project would also be a swift boost to rural economies in the region, winning support from many in the GOP and some labor unions. Mel Olson, president of United Piping, a Duluth-based company that often contracts with Enbridge, said Line 3 would give Minnesota workers good jobs close to home, when they’re often working on far-flung projects for weeks at at time.

“It means that they feed their families and get to see them a little more often than they normally do because this is in their backyards,” Olson told MinnPost.

Walz’s decision drew swift condemnation from Republicans and some in the DFL. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said Walz made a “mistake” and that clarity is not needed on a project that has been heavily scrutinized. “There’s a lot of jobs that are waiting on this project to move forward,” Gazelka said.

photo of legislators gathered for press conference
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka condemned Walz’s decision.
Line 3 has faced vociferous protests, however, from those who see any new infrastructure to support fossil fuels as a harmful accelerant to global warming. Opponents also point out Enbridge spills in Minnesota and around the country as evidence oil pipelines are far from infallible.

On Friday, a group of church and indigenous leaders gathered at the state Capitol to urge Walz to fight Line 3 by restarting the appeals process, just one of many similar gatherings in recent weeks. Rebecca Voelker, Director of the Center for Sustainable Justice and a reverend at Lyndale United Church of Christ, said “because we say ‘yes’ to the sacredness of water and life, we must say ‘no’ to this Line 3 project.”

Joe Plummer, an attorney for the Red Lake and White Earth Bands of Ojibwe, praised Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan in a statement on Tuesday for fighting to “protect the rights, health and way of life of the Ojibwe people.”

“The PUC was wrong to allow Enbridge to build Line 3 through treaty-protected lands,” he said, “and we look forward to making our case in court.”

Walz’s petition is likely to be just one of many, as environmental groups have been quick to challenge Line 3 at every step in what has been a years-long regulatory process. The Department of Commerce has been challenging the PUC’s decision on a fairly narrow premise — that Enbridge hasn’t properly shown demand in Minnesota for oil carried by the pipeline.

The energy company hopes to build the pipeline by the end of the year, although it still needs permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Department of Natural Resources and the federal Army Corps of Engineers. Rather than deploying the sharp rhetoric that has been a hallmark of the Line 3 debate, Walz framed his appeal as another aspect of the ongoing regulatory process, akin to a fact-finding mission.

“By continuing that process, our Administration will raise the Department of Commerce’s concerns to the court in hopes of gaining further clarity for all involved,” he said.

MinnPost reporter Peter Callaghan contributed to this story. 

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Michael Miles on 02/12/2019 - 10:50 am.

    Thank you, Governor Walz for your courageous act!

    The advancing of the lawsuit to stop Enbridge 3 is a great start to attempting to slow down and reverse the climate chaos in which we now find ourselves. As almost every Minnesotan who spends time outside is aware we are already in a deep trouble, and need to act quickly and decisively to save our biosphere and ourselves.

    As the October, 2018 findings by the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change stated we need cut our CO2 pollution by 45% by 2030 and 100% by 2050. The building of this pipeline would be a huge step in wrong direction.

    Again, thank you, from my children and myself.

  2. Submitted by Mike Downing on 02/12/2019 - 11:28 am.

    It takes zero courage to base your decisions on feelings. It takes great courage to say “we must avoid an environmental disaster from a very old and unsafe pipeline”.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 02/12/2019 - 12:04 pm.

      Ironic post from a person who voted for a guy that governs completely by his feelings.
      “My gut tells me more sometimes, than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.” – Donald Trump

    • Submitted by Nick Foreman on 02/12/2019 - 01:17 pm.

      Easy solution. Don’t run the pipeline thru any tribal land. Run it thru the lands of people who want the pipeline. Any breaks in the pipeline would be their responsibility along with Enbridge.

      There is no value to most of southern MN or the metro.

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 02/12/2019 - 11:38 am.

    A contrarian view:

    Stopping Line 3 will not keep oil in the ground. It will be transported in some fashion to wherever there is sufficient demand for it, as is the case with every other form of carbon-based energy.

    The way to keep oil in the ground is to use other forms of energy to the point that it is no longer financially viable to transport or use oil for heating and transportation. That means changing our way of life.

    Until then, I’d rather have a newer line with upgraded safeguards, though if the current line is operating at half capacity, I have trouble accepting the need (as opposed to the company’s desire) to build a higher capacity line. If a capacity comparable to the existing line does not make economic sense, then perhaps a new line shouldn’t be built at all. That, in my mind would be strong evidence of a declining need.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 02/12/2019 - 11:59 am.

      The current line runs at half capacity because the line is in bad shape and likely can’t handle a full load. Thus the reason for replacing it. The extra oil is being hauled by trains now.

      So far no other form of energy outside of nuclear has the energy density of fossil fuels. That’s why they are so popular and cheap. For vehicle fuel, oil is still king and will be for some time to come. Maybe some form of hydrogen fuel cell tech might replace it down the road but it will not be electric cars.

      • Submitted by James Hamilton on 02/12/2019 - 04:18 pm.

        You are right about the relative volumes of the two lines and energy density. Your opinion on alternative vehicular fuels is based on current tech, however. Those who want the oil to remain in the ground would best direct their efforts to changing that fact and by reducing the need for/use of oil.

  4. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 02/12/2019 - 11:55 am.

    So a 5-0 PUC decision (by Democrat appointed members) isn’t good enough? So much for the slogan “One Minnesota”. Walz is just another Dayton. Too bad the taxpayers have to keep paying for these stupid lawsuits that will go nowhere and only serve to delay the inevitable.

  5. Submitted by Aaron Albertson on 02/12/2019 - 11:58 am.

    Good call. I’m not opposed to all pipelines, but

    a) crude oil is really toxic and to route it through NW Minnesota where there are a ton of lakes is really risky if there’s a leak

    b) Red Lake and White Earth don’t want this and we should respect tribal sovereignty in this case

    Natural gas pipelines? Absolutely. Normal oil pipelines? Hopefully we can start moving off oil, but in the here and now there’s going to be demand for it, and a pipeline is safer than rail. But we don’t need crude oil being run through our state en route to Wisconsin

    • Submitted by Patrick Tice on 02/12/2019 - 04:13 pm.

      Remember when Scott Walker decided Minnesota couldn’t have high speed rail service to Chicago? Payback time, baby!

  6. Submitted by JUDITH MONSON on 02/12/2019 - 12:11 pm.

    Thanks, Governor Walz! You are becoming all we hoped you might be!

  7. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 02/12/2019 - 01:05 pm.

    I would like to see evidence as to how the company has handled other spills. If they have brought lawsuits to make minimize their cleanup costs, for me that makes it a no go. I understand that the line doesn’t provide fuel to Minnesota – we provide ashort path to Superior WI. Their recent accident suggests that it is too easy to cut corners on these hazardous projects.

  8. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 02/12/2019 - 09:17 pm.

    Prior to his election I don’t recall this being the stand the Governor took. Perhaps he has “evolved”. Or perhaps, now, once elected, we see the true Governor Walz.

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