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.”
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.”