Minnesota’s top political leaders — Gov. Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison, and U.S. senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith — have failed to take a stand and show leadership opposing the proposed Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline, a dangerous and unnecessary project.
Ask state leaders about Line 3 and you get cautious responses, like “I favor a strong and rigorous environmental review process.” That’s a hedge, not a thumbs-up or thumbs-down answer.
In 2018, I attended two events for then-gubernatorial candidate Walz. I went specifically to ask Walz about his position on Line 3. I left those conversations feeling confident he would oppose the project. I recall one quote in particular “Peggy wouldn’t let me do that,” he said, a reference to his running mate Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and a vocal Line 3 critic during her time as a state Representative.
Walz made his opposition known early in the campaign. A 2019 MinnPost article recalled:
In a pair of tweets in August of 2017, Walz said a theoretical Enbridge line traversing ceded treaty lands used by tribes to hunt, fish and gather wild rice was a “nonstarter,” and that a state-ordered environmental impact statement showed each route being considered for a new Line 3 by Enbridge “would disproportionately and adversely affect native people.”
Yet as the election neared, Walz position changed. An Oct. 22 Star Tribune article said both Walz and his Republican rival Jeff Johnson supported Line 3. Walz was going along with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC’s) decision, but he left some wiggle room.
Walz said his administration would do a better job than [Gov. Mark] Dayton’s of pushing companies to win a “social permit.” He described that as a buy-in from other landowners, local officials and environmentalists during a project’s conception, as an alternative to protracted regulatory, political and legal battles.
That “buy-in” idea hasn’t worked. Multiple parties have filed three separate legal challenges against Line 3 with the Minnesota Court of Appeals. In a split decision on the first case, the Court ruled against the PUC in one key area. It said the PUC-approved environmental impact statement didn’t address Line 3’s impact on the Lake Superior watershed. That puts Line 3’s permit reviews on hold, with two more legal challenges pending (with potential appeals to the Minnesota Supreme Court).
A coalition of Stop Line 3 groups, including Anishinaabe leaders, youth climate activists, and environmental organizations, have tried to get a face-to-face meeting with Walz and Lt. Gov. Flanagan since the 2018 election. So far, they’ve only been able to talk to staff.
This issue deserves top-level attention. Line 3’s climate damage is estimated at $287 billion over three decades. The pipeline would cross more than 200 Minnesota water bodies and 75 miles of wetlands. A spill, or worse yet a rupture, would do serious damage to our state’s cleanest waters and Anishinaabe treaty rights.
National leaders are taking sides, specifically candidates in the 2020 Democratic presidential field. Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont came out against Line 3, according to a July 23 MinnPost article. Inslee challenged Sen. Klobuchar and other White House rivals to take a similar stand.
“I want to thank the Tribal nations, activists and young people who have been tirelessly fighting to protect Minnesota from the dangerous Line 3 pipeline,” he said. “I encourage my fellow Democratic candidates to join me in opposition this pipeline.”
Neither Sen. Klobuchar nor Sen. Smith have taken a position for or against the pipeline, the story said.
When asked what Klobuchar’s stance is on the pipeline and about dissent from tribal governments, her state director, Ben Hill, said only that the DFLer supports environmental review of the project to determine if Line 3 should be built. …
Molly Morrissey, a spokeswoman for Sen. Tina Smith, said the DFLer “believes we need to continue with a rigorous process to make sure this project is safe for Minnesota.”
As Minnesota Congressman, Keith Ellison was a fierce opponent of the Alberta Clipper crude oil pipeline, a forerunner to Line 3. He spoke at a 2015 Tar Sands Resistance March. He declared “I will act on climate!” according to a video, and said he would “stand with my First Nations brothers and sisters.”
“We’re here, standing with you, fighting with you… We know that the power is with the people. And when the people are marching and the people are demanding, the people are going to get what they want.”
Now as Minnesota’s Attorney General, people have been writing Ellison, pressing him to oppose Line 3. ” One such letter writer, Melanie Weberg, provided this blog a copy of her letter and the response she received.
Your office has been silent on climate change and particularly the issue of climate justice. I am writing to ask two things: 1) investigate the reports of security firms targeting indigenous peoples and pipeline opponents where Enbridge is currently carrying out Line 3 construction activities. Enbridge’s Line 3 has not been approved! 2) Hall all construction activities during this lengthy court process.
A Deputy Attorney General responded to Weberg with a “not our job” letter. It said:
… the Minnesota Legislature delegated to the Public Utilities Commission (“PUC”) the authority to decide both whether Enbridge’s proposed pipeline is needed and which route it should follow. … This Office doesn’t have the authority to overturn the PUC’s decision and the Office is not a party to the case.
On Thursday, six Anishinaabe women filed a complaint against Enbridge and the PUC with Ellison’s office. The complaint asks him to intervene to protect their treaty rights. It was sent by Dawn Goodwin (White Earth), Tania Aubid (Mille Lacs), Karen Durfee, Debra Topping, and Sherry Couture (Fond du Lac) and Nancy Beaulieu (Leech Lake), as well as a non-band member ally.
We’re writing and submitting this complaint report because we fear our words have fallen on deaf ears too many times. Your immediate attention is sought. Further discussion is needed and reconciliation is key. Simply ‘Acknowledging’ the Treaties is not longer acceptable. All public officials have a duty to take actions to uphold Treaties. Just as important, all parties involved in the Line 3 project must honor the Treaties, regardless of how much money Enbridge spends to lobby the state of Minnesota. Treaties are non-negotiable and can’t be sold out at any cost.
Ellison, Walz and Minnesota’s other political leaders have any number of options for speaking out strongly against Line 3 if they choose to do so.
- Climate Change: Walz already has taken a stand against climate change, proudly announcing a plan earlier this year to achieve 100 percent clean energy in Minnesota by 2050. The carbon pollution associated with Line 3 is equal to approving approximately 50 new coal power plants, according to an article in The Guardian. If Walz and other leaders are serious about clean energy, they will step up and oppose Line 3.
- Treaty Rights: Anishinaabe treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather along the proposed Line 3 route are unresolved. The project should not be allowed to proceed until those issues are resolved. Minnesota’s elected leaders take an oath of office in which they pledge to support both the Minnesota and United States constitutions. The U.,S. Constitution makes treaty rights the “supreme law of the land.” State leaders cannot simply ignore treaties as a federal issue. They have a responsibility to follow treaty law.
- The Pipeline Isn’t Needed: The Minnesota Department of Commerce has a pending lawsuit against Line 3, saying Enbridge failed to prove the project is needed. The lawsuit began under Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration. The Walz administration reviewed and renewed it. The Attorney General’s office is the Department of Commerce’s legal arm. In that capacity, Ellison wrote Commerce’s petition against Line 3. Both Walz and Ellison seem to quietly agree this project isn’t needed; they are not speaking out and they need to.
- Violating State Rules: Enbridge acknowledged in its applications that it can’t build the pipeline without violating state rules. In the company’s own words, the pipeline’s water crossings won’t all comply with state environmental standards, “given northern Minnesota’s topography and environment (e.g., avoiding wetlands).” It’s a low-risk political position for state leaders to say: “If the project can’t meet state rules, we can’t issue permits.”
The list goes on.
Line 3 is not a typical political spat. It’s a multi-generational, multi-billion project. Some 340-miles of pipeline will cross the entirety of northern Minnesota.
According to numerous religious leaders, this is a deeply moral issue. More than 500 religious leaders from Minnesota and the surrounding area signed a letter opposing Line 3. It’s as relevant today as it was when it was issued more than a year ago:
All signers of this letter wish to join together in stating our clear opposition to Line 3 and ensuring it is never approved. We are ready to open a new chapter in how we treat our environment and how we relate with our Indigenous neighbors.
Ellison, Walz, Klobuchar, and Smith all face a major test of their leadership on Line 3. People have a right to know where they stand. Most importantly, their moral leadership is desperately needed to stop this dangerous project.