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In Minneapolis, Al Gore weighs in on Line 3 — and whether Minnesota can make a difference on climate change

Former Vice President Al Gore
Climate Reality Project
Former Vice President Al 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.

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.”

Gov. Tim Walz, Al Gore
Climate Reality Project
Gore told MinnPost that he is a fan of Gov. Tim Walz and “may not be completely expert in all of the details of this particular pipeline project.”
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.”

Enbridge Line 3, Public Utilities Commission designated route
State of Minnesota
Enbridge Line 3, Public Utilities Commission designated route
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.”

Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Mike Downing on 08/05/2019 - 11:56 am.

    What Al Gore and others are really saying is “we are OK with rail car disasters and pipeline explosions” due to not upgrading the existing pipeline to Line 3.

    • Submitted by Todd Adler on 08/05/2019 - 12:10 pm.

      No, what they’re saying is we shouldn’t extra the oil in the first place, that we should instead switch to an economy that uses a lot less oil.

      Mike’s argument above is just a straw man argument designed to denigrate and marginalize anyone who objects to the pipeline as a group that just wants more disasters. Which, of course, ignores the fact that they’re trying to prevent a larger environmental disaster: climate change.

      But once you paint the opposition as idiots, it’s easy to off hand dismiss anything else they have to say.

  2. Submitted by Michelle Shaw on 08/05/2019 - 12:51 pm.

    I wish you had interviewed Dawn Goodwin, a water protector and advocate traditional lifeways of the Anishinaabe. She spoke at the conference about Line 3 on Saturday, As a friend of hers, I know she wasn’t at the conference on Friday when Governor Walz spoke. However, I had told her and our friend Nancy who is also out their protecting their rights every day what had happened with the protesters. While Dawn was talking about the pipeline and how it was going to go right through the lakes and rivers where their sacred manoomin (or wild rice) grows and that it was all of this that was going to be destroyed, Dawn told the crowd, “I heard there were some protesters here yesterday protesting against Line 3. I want you to know they were only here because they had to be.” That’s because the Public Utilities Commission did not listen to their own Department of Commerce or the Administrative Law Judge, which is what their decision was supposed to be based on. These things were missing from the article too, but the most important thing would’ve been to include the Native voices, and they were there in that room. All you had to do was ask.

  3. Submitted by Richard Owens on 08/05/2019 - 04:41 pm.

    4 days ago, an Enbridge gas pipeline exploded in Kentucky killing one injurying more. The place looks like a bombed out battlefield.

    That’s normal for Enbridge.

    “More than 1 million gallons of tar sands oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River near the town of Marshall when a 6-foot rupture opened in Enbridge pipeline 6B. Despite warnings of trouble, oil flowed for 17 hours before Enbridge shut down the pipeline. Ultimately, the oil pushed nearly 40 miles downriver, fouling 4,435 acres of land near the river’s banks. It triggered a massive cleanup effort that cost the company $1.2 billion and kept the river closed for nearly two years.

    As part of a sweeping, $177 million settlement, Enbridge promised to look for cracks and corrosion on its Lakehead pipeline system, a nearly 2,000-mile grid of pipelines that brings oil from Canada into the United States.

    In a document filed in a Michigan federal court on Tuesday, the government alleges that Enbridge failed to properly conduct six inspections.

    Although the company agreed to pay the fine, it nevertheless denied that it violated the terms of the consent decree and said it had properly inspected the pipelines.”
    [end quote]

    This is a no-brainer. We do not NEED anymore tar sands bitumen or the catastrophic spills these materials regularly suffer. We cannot “clean up” this substance any more than we can grow anything where the spills occur. We can’t trust the EPA or the MPCA to protect us adequately and everyone with an eye to the future should oppose this 20th century antique energy in favor of faster development of all the other cleaner energy sources.

    The company will eventually pay private police to bully the landholders and disregard the precious waters of our state to profit a Canadian multi-national corporation.

  4. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 08/05/2019 - 07:28 pm.

    Vice President Gore will continue to earn millions of dollars in his campaign which is certainly the American Dream. “Good money after bad” would only be spent by Enbridge and I look forward to the day that “if” the pipeline is ever built (due to court challenges) that when they turn the spigot on nothing comes out since there will be no demand (according to protesters). If oil does indeed come out, the protesters would be proven wrong. If not, Enbridge spent millions on jobs for nothing. Win-win.

    “Gore said it’s inaccurate to claim any one storm or weather event can’t be linked to climate change.”
    Which means that any good weather may also be blamed on climate change. That is the beauty of the climate-change model, it explains everything.

  5. Submitted by Kent Fralish on 08/06/2019 - 06:56 am.

    “It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.”

    — Vice President Al Gore

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/07/2019 - 09:46 am.

      Ha, ha, that’s really funny! What a dope he is!

      Except Al Gore never said it. It’s usually attributed to Dan Quayle and John Kerry, but neither of them ever said it. The line actually comes from a collection of fake Quayle-isms that ran in Mad magazine.

      In the immortal words of Ronald Reagan, “Facts are stupid things.”

  6. Submitted by Mark Miklas on 08/06/2019 - 07:21 am.

    The comment from Enbridge spokeswoman Juli Kellner that “… 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.” is misleading and should not have been included in your report. None of the oil used by the two Minnesota refineries is supplied by the current or proposed Line 3. There is no need to replace Line 3. The PUC’s determination of need was incorrect.

  7. Submitted by Eric Snyder on 08/06/2019 - 11:42 am.

    The climate emergency is bad enough and challenges many key aspects of who we are and how we do things. Making this situation needlessly worse is the presence of anti-science attitudes along with just plain stupidity. Take, for instance, this commonplace GOP talking point:

    “…using legislation to rapidly change the state economy is unwise when the state only accounts for a fraction of global emissions.”

    This argument relies upon ignoring the obvious point that many fractions constitute a whole.

    There’s no country or state that can claim to produce a majority of the world’s carbon emissions. Every single entity with political boundaries produces a fraction of the world’s emissions. If each of them decided that because of their small contribution relative to the whole that they would therefore avoid taking strong climate action, nothing of course would get done.

    Recall the vote earlier this year that revealed nothing less than–what words could describe this–shocking and shameful ignorance in the GOP caucus:

    “The House was debating a bill on economic development, energy, and telecommunications when he proposed one simple sentence: “The legislature finds and declares that greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities are a key cause of climate change.”

    It would add no new regulations, and cost no new money.

    No less than 50 House Republicans voted against it. Rep. Eric Lucero (R-Dayton) even took the floor to demonstrate that IQ tests should be required for state legislators.

    “Human activities are not the cause of climate change,” he said, blathering on about the temperature cycles of history. “We were at one point in an ice age… This is fake.””

    In addition to the climate emergency we now have to contend with a science illiteracy emergency. One legislative response to this would be to require a rigorous climate change and climate policy course in all public schools, making it mandatory for graduation. Because of lingering misinformation about this issue, it might be advisable to discuss and refute the bogus claims that are still made against climate science.

  8. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 08/06/2019 - 03:18 pm.

    It would have been better, I think had former VP Gore been here ten years ago to speak out against Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper pipeline. But better late than never. Anyone, especially political leaders who take stands to limit and reduce use of fossil fuels need to be encouraged and supported. With respect to oil, there is another reason: the world has passed the “Hubbard Peak” so the supplies of oil are dwindling. The point is made by Exxon who in the last ten years was authorized by the Energy Dept. to count tar sands as part of its reserve for the simple fact that its reserves are being depleted.

    To me, the analogy by Rob Hopkins who wrote in “The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience” is apt:

    “Conventional drilling of sweet crude oil, such as occurs in Saudi Arabia, is like standing at the bar while a charming barman pours you pints direct from the cask in the cellar.

    “Tar sands are akin to arriving at the pub to find that all the beer is off, but so desperate are you for a drink that you begin to fantasise that in the 30 years this pub has been open, the equivalent of 5,000 pints have been spilt on the carpet, so you design a process whereby you boil up the carpet in order to extract the beer again. It is the desperate, futile action of an alcoholic . . .”

    Bill McKibbin’s organization stands for encouraging the global reduction of annual carbon emissions to 350 ppm. If I recall correctly, that was a level in the 1980’s. Doing this will require community, state, national and global cooperation but it seems doable to me, if everyone would get on board with the program and stop pretending that human created climate change is “fake news.”

    • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 08/06/2019 - 09:45 pm.

      Meanwhile, Russia is staking out the Arctic Circle for oil that, trust me, will not remain in the ground. Markets for American coal in China and India continue to grow (but the President’s tariffs might slow that growth). Oil and natural gas finds continue which continues to call the “Hubbard Peak” into question. Only time will tell. If and when Line 3 is completed, if any oil comes out the end it will prove who was right and who was wrong.

      • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 08/07/2019 - 10:00 am.

        So your (Republican, or “conservative”?) solution is to “drill, baby, drill” and use all the oil, coal and natural gas as fast we can? And to repudiate global efforts like the Paris accords that would curtail fossils fuel use? And continue to allow the fossil fuel industries to maintain barriers to renewable development and use?

        The days of “big finds” of oil or natural gas are past and whatever there is will come at great cost, including environmental cost. Remember the BP disaster? But you’re right about coal I suppose. I’ve heard there’s another 200 years of reserves left. Assuming the planet or the human species survives that long.

        It strikes me as no coincidence that the world went beyond 350 ppm annual emissions. That was in the 1980’s when Reagan got elected President and also when government scrapped 55 mph speed limits and discontinued motor vehicle mileage and emission standards. And a lot of other conservation and environmental policies. But for head in the sand “conservative” policies the US might have at least within the 350 ppm limits. Still, I’m hopeful it’s not too late for humans to wake up to avert the impending climate catastrophe now in the making.

        • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 08/07/2019 - 01:34 pm.

          One of the consequences of the morally indifferent mentality behind the motto “drill baby, drill!” is that we find out that fracking can’t be done without harming public health.

          This is hardly a surprise. Nor is it a surprise that evidence of harm to public health (let alone wildlife or the environment or water quality) is not enough to put the brakes on the America’s corporate sociopathy, or spark a second thought among our corporate-catering politicians of both parties.

  9. Submitted by Kent Fralish on 08/07/2019 - 09:44 am.

    And still no discussion on human population growth, which will far outpace any other measures of reduction.

    • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 08/07/2019 - 10:30 pm.

      You have hit the very big nail on the head! The largest control on climate change is the human population, Everything else is fluff and nobody in the USA government will admit it or do anything about it.

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