No way to say thanks: Walz faces pipeline protesters, again

A group of environmental protesters tried to shout down Governor Tim Walz on Wednesday in a bizarre move that came one day after the governor sided with them over construction of a controversial oil pipeline.

Walz has decided to continue an appeal of state regulators’ approval for the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in northern Minnesota. Environmentalists had been pushing him to take that step, while Enbridge, unions and Republican supporters of the project said it would be an unnecessary delay.

A day later, Walz took the stage for a forum at the University of Minnesota campus. That’s when a dozen protesters unfurled banners and started yelling at him from the back of the room to stop Line 3 from moving forward.

The governor initially appeared unsure of how to handle the disruption, asking the event moderator, “Do you want to answer?” As the protest continued for 10 minutes, he started responding and criticizing the protesters for interrupting.

“That is patently false. That is patently false, because those have happened,” Walz said when a protester accused him of not meeting with Minnesotans over the pipeline. 

The governor had been in the middle of an answer about the state budget and told the interrupter, “Dominating a question that‘s happening with child mental health, dominating a conversation that people want to have about housing, dominating a conversation about the delivering of education and racial disparities because that’s not the issue you want to talk about at the time is depriving us of that conversation.”

The disruption continued, and Walz threw up his hands and said, “I can’t help.”

University of Minnesota Police eventually escorted the protesters out of the room and the rest of the event went on without incident.

The disruption was made more ironic because, on Tuesday, environmentalists had delivered a thank you card to Walz’s office to celebrate his Line 3 decision. 

The state Public Utilities Commission signed off on the $2.9 billion pipeline project last year, but the Commerce department under former Gov. Mark Dayton sued in December. A court threw out the lawsuit because it was filed too early, and Walz faced a Tuesday deadline to decide whether to continue the appeal.

The project’s supporters were the ones initially upset by his decision. In a statement, an Enbridge spokeswoman called the move “unfortunate.” One Republican state representative from northern Minnesota said his area was betrayed by the governor’s decision. 

Operating Engineers Local 49, a union that endorsed Walz for governor, said he was wrong to side with “environmental extremism” and delay needed construction jobs.

At the U of M event, Walz said he wanted to let the state’s appeal play out. He acknowledged that the project’s supporters were frustrated.

“I certainly found out, in this job, I now pretty much angered everyone on that,” the governor said.