Silence is not leadership

Reading the tea leaves, it seems Gov. Walz is a Line 3 backer

Gov. Tim Walz has bobbed, weaved, dithered, and ducked through his first term in office, avoiding taking a stand on the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipelines. After the coronavirus, it’s one of the most consequential issues of his tenure.

The pipeline would generate $287 billion in climate damage. It would trench through 79 miles of wetlands. It would cut through state forests. Oil spills would jeopardize northern Minnesota’s clean waters, including wild rice beds. It would violate treaty rights. And by the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s own analysis, Enbridge failed to prove the pipeline is needed.

Yet Walz has given his tacit approval for the project, siding with a Canadian oil pipeline company, international oil shippers, and oil refineries. The project has slid through the state regulatory process with minimal opposition.

Current Line 3 route (orange) and proposed route (green).

Most likely Walz was lured by the prospect of Line 3’s thousands of construction jobs. (His silence makes it hard to tell.) If that was his logic, it was short sighted. He’s getting a short-term economic boost while passing massive environmental costs to future generations.

This week his administration whiffed on one of its last chances take action on Line 3. The Red Lake and White Earth nations submitted a motion to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to delay Line 3 construction. Among their arguments, they said such a massive construction project would bring in out-of-state workers and risk spreading the coronavirus throughout northern Minnesota. (Others agree with them, but Native Americans are particularly vulnerable to the disease.)

All the Department of Commerce had to do was file a motion in support of the delay. Yet in a PUC filing today, Commerce ducked, saying it “takes no position on the motion of Red Lake and White Earth.”

To make matters worse, state leaders offered no explanation. Not Walz. Not the Department of Commerce. Not the Department of Health. They all have accountability for this decision.

Leadership is about making tough decisions and telling people how you got there.

Silence should not be an option.

Neither Gov. Tim Walz nor Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm have explained why they think it’s OK to start Line 3 construction when the epidemic is spreading.

Public opposition to Line 3 is strong. Some 72,000 people submitted comments to the PUC during Line 3 hearings. Of those, 94 percent opposed the project.

Here are the questions the Walz administration still needs to answer.

Q: Why didn’t the Department of Commerce support Red Lake and White Earth’s efforts to delay Line 3 construction?

Commerce is currently suing to strike down a Line 3 permit in the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Supporting a Line 3 construction delay would have been a perfectly reasonable position for Commerce to take given its opposition to the permit. Recall, Commerce doesn’t think the pipeline is needed.

People deserve an explanation for Commerce’s inaction.

Q: How would the influx of Line 3 construction workers affect coronavirus cases in northern Minnesota? If state leaders believe there would be no increase in cases, they need to explain why. If state leaders believe there would be increased cases, they need to explain their failure to support the construction delay.

Health care professionals held a media conference this morning outside the Governor’s mansion, expressing their deep concern for the coronavirus spread that could result from Line 3’s influx of out-of-state construction workers.

“I am asking Gov. [Tim] Walz to issue a stay on Line 3 construction as a COVID -19 mitigation measure,” said Dr. Laalitha Surapaneni, a Twin Cities physician specializing in internal medicine who has been on the medical front lines battling COVID-19 since last spring. “Enbridge plans to move 4,000 workers to start construction this winter into temporary housing across construction sites in rural Minnesota.” …

“These are perfect conditions for the virus to spread and harm us,” she said.

StarTribune Dec, 2, 2020

The link between a major construction project and the pandemic is a legitimate concern, one that deserves an explanation from both Walz and the state Health Department.

Q: What impact, if any, has Walz’s executive order promising Native Nation consultation had on the Line 3 decisions?

Last year, Walz issued an executive order committing the state to provide “consultation, coordination and cooperation” with the Tribal Nations. It would “help to establish mutually respectful and beneficial relationships between the State and Minnesota Tribal Nations,” it said.

And to be specific, this was to be “meaningful and timely” consultation.

Walz needs to explain how he squares his executive order’s promises with his administration’s failure to support Red Lake and White Earth’s request for a construction delay in particular, and Line 3 decisions in general. From the outside looking in, the executive order’s impact seems minimal.

The Sierra Club and Honor the Earth weighed in on behalf of a construction delay in a PUC filing today. They argue that “construction will cause irreparable harm to the Tribes, to all Minnesota communities and to its environment; while the potential harms of a stay to Enbridge are temporary, financial and recoverable.”

Friends of the Headwaters also submitted a filing in support of a construction delay in order to allow time for legal challenges to be heard in court. It writes that significant facts have changed since the PUC approved Line 3 in 2018:

Demand for oil is down and there is a growing consensus that demand will likely never recover to even 2019 levels, and will almost certainly go into a steeper decline before this proposed pipeline is even ten years old; …

Friends of the Headwaters filing

These are powerful arguments supporting a delay in Line 3 construction. Where do our leaders stand?

Contact them and tell them you expect answers.

If the Governor’s Office believes this blog has mischaracterized his stance as a “Line 3 backer,” we will run his unedited response in full.

2 thoughts on “Silence is not leadership

  1. Gov. Walz, Commissioner Malcom, I have nothing but strong praise for your work and leadership on this pandemic. It has truly altered our lives this past 9 months as Minnesotans. I do not understand why you would put us in jeopardy as citizens by importing foreign workers-4,000 of them to Northern Mn. That defies the science of safety in this critical time of pandemic in MN. You are not considering the safety of the citizens by allowing this pipeline work to proceed. You must act to stop this. Please, act on the science. Hear the citizens and doctors and others who will be at risk.
    Mary Kowalski


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