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Walz in his own words: an explanation of his Line 3 decision

photo of briana bierschbach and gov. tim walz speaking on stage
Courtesy of the Humphrey School
MinnPost alum Briana Bierschbach interviewed Gov. Tim Walz at an event at the Humphrey School on Wednesday.

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday said his decision to continue a legal challenge to a controversial oil pipeline was made in part to “reset” relationships with Minnesota’s tribal nations and to better determine whether the project is necessary to meet future oil demand.

In a public interview with MPR News’ Briana Bierschbach at the University of Minnesota, the DFL governor also said he would not try to unilaterally stop Enbridge’s Line 3 project because he believes it would violate principles of “checks and balances” between the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government. The remarks were Walz’s first since his office issued a brief written statement Tuesday announcing his decision and offer further insights into his philosophy on the pipeline project.

“If you fall on the side that says, ‘Well, the governor should just stop this; it’s the right thing to do,’ then you would be making the case that the next governor should just build one, without any environmental review, without any process involved,” Walz said of oil pipelines.

The appeals process was first started by the state Department of Commerce under Gov. Mark Dayton. The lawsuit challenged a decision by the Public Utilities Commission to grant Line 3 a Certificate of Need, a crucial step in the regulatory process. Dayton’s administration said Enbridge had not provided a long-range forecast of the demand for oil to justify the pipeline, which is required for the certificate by state law. (Enbridge says it has shown the need for oil.)

Dayton’s lawsuit was thrown out last week for being filed too early. But after a period of deliberation, and some intense public pressure from many involved in the debate, Walz said he would file a petition for reconsideration with the PUC — the first step toward another appeal.

Walz said Dayton’s lawsuit effectively became part of the regulatory review once it was filed, and killing it would only erode public trust in the project. There have already been regular protests of Line 3 and four people were recently arrested after trying to tamper with equipment on Enbridge property.

“My take is, if you can’t get people’s buy-in, to believe that there’s validity behind the discussion — the social permit — it makes it very difficult to get these done without great disruption,” Walz said. The governor said he felt as if there was an “expectation” the appeal should be heard, and singled out his efforts to listen to Minnesota tribes who urged him to continue Dayton’s efforts.

Enbridge, which is based in Calgary, hopes to build Line 3 through northern Minnesota’s lakes region as a replacement to an existing crude oil pipeline built in the 1960s. The current pipeline is corroding and carrying only half the oil it’s expected to transport. It starts in Edmonton and ends in Superior, Wisconsin. The new Line 3 would be larger, and move about 760,000 barrels of oil per day across 337 miles of Minnesota before reaching Superior.

Its supporters argue the new infrastructure would be safer, and that the $2.6 billion project would shower the region with jobs and property taxes. Opponents argue building more infrastructure for fossil fuels is irresponsible amid global warming, and that a new pipeline would risk spills that could harm the Mississippi River’s headwaters, plus land and water that is used by tribes for hunting, fishing and wild rice gathering.

Walz did say climate change factored into his decision. He announced that his upcoming budget plan, set to be released next week, would push to speed up a transition to electric transportation and said those types of decisions should be considered when measuring the need for oil. He said he was frustrated at the “glacial pace” of legislation to address climate change. “I think many of us feel like there’s not time to move at that pace,” he said.

Many in the GOP renounced Walz for his Line 3 decision, saying he was cowing to environmental protesters rather than coming to an honest conclusion. Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, said in a statement on Tuesday that Walz had sided with “eco-terrorists.” Walz rebutted Wednesday that if the PUC “ruled correctly, then the appeals court will rule the same.”

“And then they will move forward,” Walz said of Line 3 supporters.

Despite the governor’s decision, which was cheered by many environmental organizations, he was still interrupted several times at the U of M event by Line 3 opponents, who unfurled a protest banner in the audience. Walz pleaded with them to stop and insisted dialogue with anti-Line 3 activists is taking place, and will continue to take place — but in other venues. At one point, he chided the protesters for interrupting discussion around housing, education, racial disparities and mental health among children. Walz also stood up for his approach to Line 3.

“Every single one of our tribal leadership were called in the previous week to consult and have meaningful consultation on this,” he said. “That’s how this is done.”

Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Howard Miller on 02/14/2019 - 12:54 pm.

    Is the need for fossil fuels going to decrease as environmentalists say it will? Is there a definitive answer?
    Will the growth of alternative energy allow for easy replacement of fossil fuels in the time lines required?
    How should we, the public, make decisions about who to support if we cannot answer these questions? Can any entity other than the press answer these questions?
    Until we get clear answers we can be easily swayed with threats of blackouts, long fuel trains (and accidents) and other environmental disasters. If the clear answers are out there can someone get them into the public eye?

    • Submitted by Patrick Tice on 02/14/2019 - 04:14 pm.

      You can just follow the trend line. Other countries have increased their sustainability, just as we are doing. There is no harm in leaving this oil in the ground. At some later date, it may be more valuable in the petrochemical industry. Further, Governor Walz is right in his observation that a project like this one really should have buy in from the people of Minnesota.

  2. Submitted by Tim Milner on 02/14/2019 - 02:02 pm.

    71% of petroleum is consumed by the transportation industry. That’s people driving cars, trucks delivery products, etc. The transportation industry has been growing ~ 4% per year. Electric cars are reasonably on the horizon should make a dent in this usage in the next 10 years. But electric trucks lag much farther behind. Going to be at least a generation, maybe 2, before this number is substantially reduced.

    24% goes into industry – mainly as a manufacturing raw material (plastics). Recycling offers best reduction to this use as substitute raw materials are not really available.

    So, I’d say, we have at least 50 years or so of fossil fuel needs. More than enough to justify replacing a pipeline that already leaks in several places.

    • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 02/14/2019 - 02:46 pm.

      You’re saying the oil can’t move their oil without this line without trains? I don’t think that’s true. If they can get it where demand is cheaply enough, but just how much the costs will be to the public is what must be decided.

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 02/15/2019 - 10:35 am.

        Pipeline is by far the cheapest and safest means to move oil long distances. Trains increase the chances of spill significantly. There is way more than enough need/demand to build this pipeline.

    • Submitted by Michael Miles on 02/15/2019 - 03:08 pm.

      It should be pointed out the that the lifetime of this pipeline will not be 50 years, if rationality prevails and empirical evidence is considered.

      Specifically, the International Panel of Climate Change, IPCC, has determined that we must cut 45% of all CO2 emissions by 2030, and 100% by 2050 or face a unstoppable runaway climate and eventual extinction.

      This dirty oil must stay in the ground for our survival. Without people, there can be no jobs.

  3. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 02/14/2019 - 02:41 pm.

    Having listened to the interview, I’m looking forward to the first four years of the Walz administration with the expectation that guvmit might work as first sold.

    The onus is on each branch to do their part in charting our energy course as well as deal with issues of justice whether for those impacted by the fossil fuels industry or for the industry that wants to move inventory of dirty oil only marketable when the price of cleaner stuff skyrockets. Walz appears to want the process to play out for all stakeholders.

    Personally, the public purpose for transportation of fossil fuels is becoming less and less clear for anything other than industrial and military use. If the industry wants to even break even, they’d better offer a whole lot more than short term jobs on a new pipeline that may not make economic sense when the risk of screwing up sensitive areas is accounted for.

    There is a great deal of ignorant talk about energy from many parties, but the movement conservative influence in the Republican caucus has made this problem acute for them, i.e., they come off as the idiots they say everyone else is.

    • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 02/14/2019 - 06:22 pm.

      Perhaps we should allow the pipeline to be built, and then, when as many say, there is no demand for the oil we are left with a long hollow tube that provided plenty of jobs, has nothing to leak, but replaces a deteriorating pipe that is probably unsafe. Everyone wins! Well, unless there is actually a demand for the oil travelling through state-of-the art pipes which would be a win for the users of that oil and the environment. Another winner!

      • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 02/16/2019 - 03:16 pm.

        Allow? This has nothing to do with pipeline being built or not, but the process for getting to an approved project; folks with a stake are doing their part. When it is done, we will know whether it will be built or not.

  4. Submitted by Kim Couch on 02/15/2019 - 09:31 am.

    I don’t think there is enough emphasis on how dirty that oil is, the most toxic of any oil in the world. If we need it, why not use the cleaner oil from North Dakota?

  5. Submitted by Scot Kindschi on 02/15/2019 - 10:57 am.

    The simple point is that dirty Canadian oil should be shipped and or railroaded across Canadian soil. We don’t want it.

  6. Submitted by Paul Copeland on 02/16/2019 - 04:44 pm.

    Someone should ask Enbridge what they will do if Minnesota turns down the Line 3 project.

    Enbridge has already built the Canada and Wisconsin segments of Line 3 and the pipeline crosses the border in North Dakota. Once the oil is in North Dakota, do we really want to incent Enbridge to ship 380,000 barrels/day across MN in a decrepit half century old pipeline that is an environmental disaster waiting to happen? And then have BNSF ship the other 380,000 barrels/day across Minnesota to Superior by rail? This seems like a poor outcome for everybody.

  7. Submitted by Elanne Palcich on 02/16/2019 - 10:03 pm.

    Once you start something, it’s hard to stop. Which is why we should not be permitting PolyMet and opening a highly polluting sulfide mine district in northeast Minnesota.

  8. Submitted by Pat Terry on 02/18/2019 - 12:10 pm.

    Walz is stuck – there isn’t a compromise position. But I’m sure he knows the pipeline is getting built either way and that any lawsuits will fail. So we get the pipeline and Walz can say he tried.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/19/2019 - 10:22 am.

    Does the current leaky line run through native land?

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/19/2019 - 10:27 am.

    If they want to replace an existing leaky line, let them replace the existing leaky line… no new route. In fact, we should have required they replace the existing leaky line when it started leaking.

  11. Submitted by Glenn Melcher on 02/19/2019 - 10:30 pm.

    I think probably Governor Walz is proceeding with the appropriate speed. I believe one question that needs to be addressed up front is how quickly the old pipeline can be extruded from the ground.. The evidence that predetermines that the useful life of the pipeline is not our matter to determine. The value of the oil being transported over the useful life of the new line will determine its economic viability. 1 solution that could be implemented is bond sinking type of fund that can accumulate value as the pipeline ages based on the oil flow.. Let’s call it an escrow fund for the Economic Benefit of Humanity.. Thank You to MinnPost for providing this forum (FBO) all Minnesota..

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