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

Plus: What he’s talking about when he talks about a “social permit.”

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

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.)

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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.

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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.”