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What we learned from Walz’s decision on Line 3

photo of sign indicating location of oil pipeline
REUTERS/Mark Blinch
Walz has been feeling tremendous pressure from environmental advocates and others opposed to the Line 3 project since the day of his inauguration.
Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday his administration will pursue a legal challenge to a proposed oil pipeline in northern Minnesota. The announcement was the DFLer’s first real foray into the debate over Enbridge’s Line 3, and drew jubilation from pipeline opponents and frustration from the project’s supporters.

The choice represents only a snippet of larger fights ahead as Enbridge continues to work its plans through the legal and regulatory process. Will the lawsuit stop the pipeline? Will protestors launch wide-scale demonstrations like the Dakota Access Pipeline foes at Standing Rock? How far will Republicans in control of the state Senate go to pressure Walz into clearing the way for Line 3? Those questions, and more, will be answered in time, yet Tuesday’s announcement was significant. Here’s what we learned:

Walz picks against the pipeline, but stops short of condemning it

In his statement Tuesday, Walz said the legal challenge will bring “clarity” on whether the Department of Commerce’s concerns that began under Gov. Mark Dayton — that Enbridge hasn’t shown a need for the oil pipeline in Minnesota — are valid. But Walz offered little clarity on his own thoughts about the pipeline.

Yes, he is taking steps to file a legal appeal, but the governor framed the matter as another piece in the regulatory process for Enbridge and a necessary prerequisite for the Calgary-based energy company to obtain what he calls a “social permit.”

Absent in Walz’s statement was any rhetoric about fighting a pipeline to slow climate change or prevent oil spills — the main arguments of those protesting against Line 3. He also didn’t commit to taking any other steps to try and block Line 3. In other words, it wasn’t a total repudiation of the project, which he previously said should go forward given approval from the independent Public Utilities Commission.

Is he leaving the door open to support Line 3 in the future if the lawsuit fails? Or just being careful not to further anger Line 3 backers? The governor has so far ducked questions from the press to explain his decision on the legal challenge.

‘One Minnesota’ might be easier said than done

The governor’s signature campaign motto “One Minnesota” may be an admirable goal, but his decision on the Enbridge lawsuit reveals how difficult it might be to uphold since it means different things to different people.

Within hours of his Line 3 announcement, the GOP was using Walz’s slogan to jab back at the governor. “I think … this was Governor Walz’s first test on what ‘One Minnesota’ means,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, flanked by a pack of other state lawmakers. “And in this example, I think very clearly that Gov. Walz has failed the test.”

photo of legislators gathered for press conference
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
GOP leaders blasted Walz’s decision.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he’s “always going to be looking for a win-win for the governor,” using another one of Walz’s favorite phrases to needle the governor. “This is a lose-lose.” Republicans have largely been united in support of Line 3, saying it would bring jobs and property taxes to rural Minnesota while replacing an existing pipeline that is aging and corroding.

The governor may be friendlier to environmental advocates than once thought

Walz has been feeling tremendous pressure from environmental advocates and others opposed to the Line 3 project since the day of his inauguration — and even before it. Four people were arrested for tampering with Enbridge pipes last week. And as recently as Monday, protests were being held at the Capitol by people urging the governor to stand against Enbridge.

Some in those crowds have been skeptical Walz will throw up any roadblocks in office to Line 3, or the two proposed copper-nickel mines in northern Minnesota. Those projects have marched forward somewhat unabated in the last couple of years and dropping Dayton’s appeal would have been yet another blow.

On Tuesday, opponents of Line 3 celebrated. The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the anti-climate change organization MN350 and others delivered a thank-you card to Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan at their office in St. Paul.

“For an administration that ran on taking climate change seriously and upholding indigenous sovereignty, continuing the appeal was the only choice that made sense,” said Andy Pearson, MN350’s Midwest Tar Sands Coordinator, in a written statement. “We’re glad that Gov. Walz and Lt. Gov. Flanagan have chosen to let the process play out.”

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by richard owens on 02/13/2019 - 10:55 am.

    Maybe someday we will need the tar sands. The beneficiaries will be people who can no longer run out the clock on sustainable energy, and they might better know the risks.

    The MN Republicans don’t seem to care that the companies that benefit from these extraction industries do not directly benefit Minnesotans, nor do they offer any answers to the questions about 1) Enbridge’s track record and current environmental messes, 2) our treaty obligations to the people whose land and waters will affected 3) DO WE NEED THESE PROJECTS?

    Northern Minnesota will become more and more valuable for the simple actions of preserving what is there. No other state around us has these assets. We protect what we have for those unborn and those who have never experienced these pristine watersheds.

    Governor Walz should help MN bring renewable and sustainable industry jobs to the North Country. He will have the support of everyone except those determined to make him fail, and the out-of-state interests that want to dig. grind. flush. and escalate risk for short term profits.

    • Submitted by Arthur Lind on 02/13/2019 - 02:21 pm.

      Minnesota does benefit from the Alberta Tar sands oil in that right here in Hibbing we have a company that employs many (50+) people that line the pipes that are used in northern Alberta with urethane and vulcanized rubber. Not to mention the local fabricators, industrial suppliers and transportation industry involved in transporting the pipe to Hibbing and from Hibbing to the customer. So, check your facts before you say there is no benefit to MN.

      • Submitted by Brian Mann on 02/13/2019 - 04:19 pm.

        How about “no long-term benefit”? MN does not consume or sell the crude in Line 3. It would be much better to invest in finishing the Essar direct iron ore reduction mine than an unnecessary, unbeneficial (long term), risky (sensitive environment), project in our state.

      • Submitted by richard owens on 02/14/2019 - 10:07 am.

        I’m sorry I didn’t allow for the direct benefit your company indeed enjoys from the Enbridge pipeline construction. Minnesota does need your enterprise and the jobs they provide to MN families.

        That said, it behooves both you and your company, and the decision to approve more Enbridge pipelines, to look to the future of tar sands and the fragile environments we want to protect in this era of rapidly-deterioration environments and water quality.

        The big fossil fuel players are leaving the tar sands for lots of reasons.
        If Suncor and the rest are selling their stakes, why would we want to take the risk on this?

        “Pipeline projects also exist to link the oil sands to the Canadian west coast, to enable exports to Asia, but these face tough opposition from environmental and indigenous groups. In the meantime, however, the future of the Canadian oil sands will be influenced by the industry’s ability to attract the investment necessary to maintain continued production growth.”
        [end quote]

        “Big players exit Canada’s oil sands
        April 25th 2017 | Canada | Oil and gas:

  2. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 02/13/2019 - 10:58 am.

    Well, if anyone’s an expert on “lose-lose”, it’s the Minnesota GOP.

  3. Submitted by Glenda Noble on 02/13/2019 - 12:08 pm.

    Ditto Richard Owens (2/13 above)! Well said. Thank you. Thank you, also to Governor Walz! Stay strong: our grandchildren, great-grandies, etc. will benefit from your strength.

  4. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 02/13/2019 - 12:53 pm.

    So he lied to get elected…. imagine that. He was fine with the PUC decision until now. Nothing like an epic waste of taxpayer money to have the govt sue itself.

  5. Submitted by B. Dahl on 02/13/2019 - 01:04 pm.

    The other option of transporting oil is of course by rail or truck. Proven to be very unsafe passing though cities and community’s to get to the refinery for processing. Many more trains and trucks will be necessary without the pipeline. Unfortunately our current civilization requires oil to function. Pipelines have proven to be the safest and most economical manner to get the oil to market.

  6. Submitted by Michael Miles on 02/13/2019 - 03:52 pm.

    We have run out of time regarding fossil fuel. The October, 2018 International Panel on Climate Change stated that we must reduce our fossil fuel consumption by 45% by 2020, and 100% by 2030 or face an unstoppable runaway climate that will lead to extinction. Enbridge #3 is just another nail in the coffin of humanity.

    The Alberta Oil Sands are some of the dirtiest sources of oil on the planet, requiring three times the amount of energy and pollution to refine, vs lighter crude. A climate study in Nature done in 2015 indicates that the oil sands need to stay in the ground to avoid catastrophe.

    There is a “One Minnesota”. 70% of the people in the US are concerned about climate change and want the government to do something about it. The only people who are in favor or fossil fuel are either uniformed about its disastrous consequences, or have a financial stake in the industry.

    I think Mr. Walz is aware of this, as is most empirically based decision makers.

    Electric automobiles are coming very quickly led by the Chinese who mandated a 10% sale of electric autos by 2020 and a ramp up more autos produced after that date. According to Reuters there is already a planned investment of $300 billion by auto makers, most directed at the Chinese mandate.

    Additionally, new battery technologies are being developed that will make batteries more efficient, and cheaper. The entire industry is at the beginning of a Moore’s Law development curve, due to the amount of investment money being injected.

    Bank of America forecasts that oil demand will peak by 2030, and quickly fall after that date, due to electric cars.

  7. Submitted by Janette Dean on 02/16/2019 - 11:53 am.

    All those in office must work much harder to build the sustainable world that human beings and living species worldwide have long needed and to reach 100% renewable energy use as fast as possible (nuclear has its own set of very detrimental problems especially in an extreme weather environment). Those in any location who work to exacerbate the increasingly-deadly climate crisis with more fossil fuels infrastructure including greater Line 3 tar sands crude oil transport capacity should be brought before the International Criminal Court for their crimes against humanity and nature. They have no place in any government. Alberta has already proven they will cut production when obstacles are in their way, and Minnesota (the Star of the North) should require the old Line 3 be immediately shut down as well if we are going to attempt to say we guide the way on the most critical matters of our time and now, perhaps, all times as far as mammal species are concerned including us. We the people are not going to play around any more with misguided, deceitful and harmful climate criminals. Your reckoning is coming…

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