Former Vice President Al Gore and Gov. Tim Walz urged fast action on global warming Friday at an event in Minneapolis that showcased Minnesota’s changing climate, its split politics over the Line 3 oil pipeline and its plans to make the energy grid carbon free by 2050.
Gore told reporters the Enbridge pipeline is “not a good project” and informed a crowd of more than 1,000 at the Minneapolis Convention Center about Walz’s legal challenge to Line 3. Walz, however, told the audience he does not plan to try and stop Line 3 by executive action since regulators on the independent Public Utilities Commission (PUC) have largely approved it. The DFLer was interrupted several times by anti-Line 3 protestors.
“As governor, I am given certain inherent authorities, but the capacity to disregard things that have been done previously I don’t possess — and even if I did, we need to be very careful thinking about this when we say, ‘You just do it by executive order,’” Walz said. “We’ve seen what executive orders do when they’re in the hands of the wrong person.”
Gore was in Minneapolis for three days to train activists in his Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit focused on building political support to address climate change. On Friday, he gave a presentation similar to the one in his famous 2006 movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” Gore, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work to increase awareness of climate change, painted a dire picture of a world hammered by climate-change-fueled storms — with further disasters on the horizon.
Gore said it’s inaccurate to claim any one storm or weather event can’t be linked to climate change. Since our globe is already altered by our carbon emissions, every drought, polar vortex, hurricane or wildfire is the consequence of an overheated world, Gore said. Extensive scientific research shows Earth is warming due to a sharp rise in greenhouse gases.
“Unfortunately, we are spewing 110 million tons of man-made global-warming pollution into the atmosphere every 24 hours,” Gore said. “We’re treating it as if it’s an open sewer.”
Walz: ‘Political reality can’t be dismissed’
While Gore mostly took a global perspective to illustrating climate change problems and solutions, Walz turned to local politics when it was his turn to speak. In front of a largely sympathetic crowd, the governor oscillated between advocating for quick and comprehensive action and methodical coalition building to advance his agenda.
Walz said “the time of incremental change has passed us by” and chastised Republicans who control the state Senate for not passing his carbon-free by 2050 bill. “Our plan is the same plan that puts us on [par] with California and Hawaii,” Walz said. “It’s the most aggressive plan put forward.”
Walz also touted a voluntary program aimed at reducing water pollution from agriculture that recently hit a milestone by enrolling 500,000 acres. The governor warned environmentalists should work to include farmers and miners when trying to create policy that fights climate change and build in economic incentives. That can speed up change, he said.
“If you leave people out of this conversation — we’re up there with farmers doing the right thing, looking at sustainable farming practices, looking at ways that they can see regenerative agriculture make a difference, make an economic difference,” Walz said of Minnesota’s Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program. “You’ve got folks up there who I don’t think you’d normally see gathered sitting in chairs in an alfalfa field talking about rotation and talking about ways that program has reduced 40,000 tons of phosphorous running off into the rivers. And here’s the real kicker on this: This program is voluntary.”
The small bunch of protestors also challenged Walz over his carbon-free energy plan. They chanted: “Incinerators aren’t renewable,” which appeared to be a dig at Walz’s 2050 proposal, which allows power companies to count waste-burning plants and other biomass energy plants as renewable. Walz’s plan would require the state energy grid to be powered by carbon-free energy by 2050.
Walz said activists must understand political reality and work to include people who don’t have the time or luxury to closely follow environmental issues in order to build “the social will to get things done.”
“Transitioning from fossil fuels is not going to be without its controversies,” he said. “But what I would ask of you is not to give your passion up, not to lose your focus and to understand that intersection between advocacy, between science, between implementation, and between the social permit and the social will and the political reality can’t be dismissed.”
Differences on Line 3
The Line 3 protesters were eventually asked to leave by Gore’s staff. Enbridge hopes to replace the existing Line 3 pipeline, which was built in the 1960s and is corroding and operating at half capacity. The project has drawn opposition from several tribes and many environmental organizations, but it has the backing of labor unions and a segment of DFLers.
The five-member PUC has approved the pipeline and voiced concern the aging Line 3 could spill. Recently a judge struck down the project’s environmental impact study, however, because it did not research the effect a spill could have on Lake Superior’s watershed.
Enbridge has stressed their work to retire the old Line 3 on the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe reservation and route the new one with tribal input and the environment in mind.
“The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission repeatedly confirmed the need for replacing Line 3 based how the project specifically benefits Minnesota,” Enbridge spokeswoman Juli Kellner said in late July. “Minnesotans consume more than 12.8 million gallons of petroleum products every day and Minnesota relies on imports to meet its energy needs. Minnesota’s two refineries produce more than two-thirds of the state’s petroleum products and 80% of these products are refined from Canadian crude oil.”
As governor, Walz re-filed a lawsuit started by former Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration challenging whether there is demand for oil from a new pipeline. But Walz has stopped short of condemning the project, and the pipeline has become something of a national issue. Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Jay Inslee have opposed it.
Speaking to a small group of reporters after his presentation, Gore told MinnPost that he is a fan of Walz and “may not be completely expert in all of the details of this particular pipeline project.”
But Gore said he’s still opposed to it. “I see it in the national context where the oil and gas industry is trying to quickly elaborate a huge expansion of their pipeline infrastructure before the cost reductions in solar and wind gets so far down that they won’t be able to sell their gas and oil anymore,” Gore said. “And I think we’re approaching that day. So I think it’s a mistake to send good money after bad and continue building these pipelines.”
States should act, says Gore
Beyond Line 3, the former VP said he’s not endorsing any one candidate or climate change plan in the presidential race but is encouraged by the strength of the proposals from most. “I think there’s kind of a race to the top in that candidates who have been pioneers in putting out bold plans are being imitated by others,” Gore said. “And those that are maybe taking a slower route are being criticized.”
In Minnesota, Republicans who control the state Senate often say using legislation to rapidly change the state economy is unwise when the state only accounts for a fraction of global emissions.
Gore made the case that states shouldn’t wait for the federal government to act but that they should do what they can to fight climate change, saying it could bring positives to the economy rather than be an “onerous burden.” He noted the fastest growing jobs in the country are solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians.
“In the unusual situation we’re in right now where the President of the United States is in the pocket of the carbon polluters and won’t do anything that they don’t tell him, then it’s important for states to fill the gap and step up and take initiatives on their own,” Gore said. “And Minnesota is one of the states doing that, and I hope we’ll be able to do more.”