(FOX 9) - In his most controversial decision since taking office, Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday he would fight construction of a pipeline in northern Minnesota, siding with environmentalists over the project’s Republican and union backers.
Enbridge, based in Calgary, Alberta, has proposed building a $2.9 billion crude oil pipeline to replace one built in 1968. The state Public Utilities Commission granted its approval last year, but then-Gov. Mark Dayton’s Commerce Department and environmental groups sued over the project.
A judge tossed the state’s lawsuit because it was filed too soon, and Walz faced a Tuesday deadline to decide whether to continue the appeal.
“Our Administration will raise the Department of Commerce’s concerns to the court in hopes of gaining further clarity for all involved,” Walz said in an emailed statement.
The governor was not available to answer reporters’ questions about his decision Tuesday, a spokesman said.
The pipeline will run from Canada to Superior, Wisconsin, through several northern Minnesota counties. Republicans said Walz had betrayed that area of the state with his decision.
“This was Gov. Walz’s first test on what One Minnesota means,” said House Republican Leader Kurt Daudt, referring to Walz’s 2018 campaign slogan. “And in this example, I think very clearly Gov. Walz has failed the test.”
No matter what the governor decided, he risked alienating key political allies. Environmental groups and some Native American tribes oppose the project. But the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, which endorsed Walz for governor last year, supports it.
“Real friends will tell you when they think you are wrong, and on this issue, we have respectfully let the governor know we strongly disagree with his decision,” Jason George, the union’s business manager, said in an email. “Continuing this lawsuit is bad public policy and encourages environmental extremism.”
Environmental groups have long fought to stop the project. Some have walked into the reception room of the governor’s office to protest. Others have sought to shut down a pipeline in northern Minnesota to demonstrate their opposition.
Tuesday, several environmentalists celebrated Walz’s decision by delivering a thank-you card to the governor’s office. An aide for Walz accepted the card.
“I would say we really weren’t sure which way they would come down, and we’re very grateful that they decided to continue the appeal,” said Andy Pearson of the group MN350. “This was the baseline, science-based decision that the governor needed to make if he wanted to continue to be credible on these issues.”
In the weeks leading up to his decision, Walz declined to tip his hand and said his administration was studying the issue. The court ruling on the Dayton-era legal challenge ultimately required him to make a public decision.
“As I often say, projects like these don’t only need a building permit to go forward, they also need a social permit,” the governor said in his three-paragraph statement. “Our administration has met with groups on all sides of this issue, and Minnesotans deserve clarity.”
Republicans said Minnesotans were plenty clear about the project after years of regulatory hearings and approvals.
“It’s very, very frustrating,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said. “It’s a step that didn’t have to happen, and it only further delays a project that we think will inevitably happen.”
Democrats who control the House said Walz’s decision will result in a “fully vetted and sound outcome.”
“Political interference and Republican finger-pointing will only make it more challenging to come to a final decision,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said.