ST. PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz said Monday that his administration has renewed its challenge to a regulatory panel's approval of Enbridge Energy's plan to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, saying he wants to let the legal process play out.
Walz told reporters the Commerce Department refiled its appeal last week with the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which had dismissed earlier appeals in the case on procedural grounds. The independent Public Utilities Commission last month gave its final reaffirmation of its earlier approvals of the project, clearing the way for the department and the environmental and tribal groups to refile appeals that began under previous Gov Mark Dayton's administration.
"We think that that appeal should simply be heard, and that's fair," he said.
The Democratic governor said the state's appeal doesn't delay the timeline for the permitting process for or construction on the replacement pipeline because the state isn't seeking an injunction. Regulators have told Enbridge that they expect to certify all remaining state permits by November. The company hopes to put the new pipeline into service in the second half of 2020.
Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge wants to replace Line 3, which was built in the 1960s, because it's increasingly prone to cracking and corrosion. Native American and environmental groups argue that the project risks oil spills in pristine areas of the Mississippi River headwaters region, and that the Canadian tar sands oil that the line would carry accelerates climate change.
Enbridge said in a statement that it believes the courts will affirm the commission's decisions, "which were made in accordance with the law based on full and complete evidence developed and presented over years of open and transparent regulatory and environmental review processes."
Walz was critical of lawmakers who've tried unsuccessfully to prohibit the state from spending taxpayer money on the appeal, calling their efforts "a gross violation of the separation of powers."
The legal issue at the heart of the Commerce Department's appeal is whether Enbridge provided legally adequate long-range demand forecasts to establish the need for the project. The Public Utilities and Enbridge say the company did. Walz said the statutory language is ambiguous, and that there would no basis for the state's appeal if lawmakers clarified the statute.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said Republicans are "incredibly disappointed" by the decision to pursue a further appeal against a new pipeline that would be the "safest, most environmentally friendly way" to transport the oil and would create jobs and increase property tax revenues for communities along the route.
"What the governor is trying to do is play both sides," Daudt said. "I think he's trying to say that, 'Well this is ultimately going to happen, but I can at least tell the people that were against it I was with them.' And to me that's a failure of leadership."