In a decision bound to draw criticism no matter what he did, Gov. Tim Walz chose last week to continue a challenge filed by his predecessor’s administration against an oil pipeline expansion in northern Minnesota. His decision was limited in scope, but significant nevertheless. By allowing the Commerce Department to continue its legal challenge to Enbridge’s economic rationale for the Line 3 project, he has signaled openness to, if not agreement with, the arguments of the project’s opponents.

Line 3, built in the 1960s, connects a terminal in Clearbrook, Minn., to one in Superior, Wis. The pipeline is deteriorating, and Enbridge, based in Calgary, says it can handle only half its intended capacity. The new line would take a different route than the current line, bypassing reservations it now cuts though but scraping the border of Itasca State Park and running through a lake region in which tribes hold treaty rights.

There are reasonable arguments on both sides. If the oil is going to move from Canada to Superior, a pipeline is without question the superior means of moving it. That point is the foundation of the earlier decision of the Public Utilities Commission to grant the project’s certificate of need. The Commerce Department’s analysis, on the other hand, concluded the petroleum isn’t necessary. The tribes oppose running a new line through the ricing lakes region, and environmental groups oppose a continuing investment in fossil fuel infrastructure.

Walz said such projects require not merely a “building permit” but a “social permit.” He said allowing the challenge to continue is a necessary part of the regulatory process and will add clarity to the debate. Perhaps. But to a large extent, minds are already set. Walz has opted to kick the can down a road a bit. If he is hoping for a consensus to form, he is certain to be disappointed.

FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE MANKATO FREE PRESS