Enbridge Line 3 appeal could lead to political fallout for Gov. Walz

    Gov. Tim Walz at a press conference announcing a new executive order that eases restrictions on restaurants, gyms, and other areas of the economy on June 5, 2020 in St. Paul, Minn. Photo by Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune.

    Minnesota Senate Republicans will use a hearing today to rake Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley over the coals, especially after this week’s decision to again appeal approval of $2.6 billion Enbridge Line 3, the pipeline that would replace an aging one and carry Canadian oil to Superior, Wisc.

    The building trades hammered Gov. Tim Walz over the decision, as Mike Hughlett reports.

    At my last job, I reported on the difficult politics of the pipeline for the DFL, and that was nearly three years ago. Here was the fiery quote about pipeline politics from Rep. Rick Hansen back then:

    “We had meatpacking plants in my district, and they voted DFL their whole life,” said Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul. “But they passed away and there are new voters who weren’t there when the stockyards were there. I represent them, not the memory of someone else.”

    It’s only gotten worse for the DFL as Trump has effectively attracted many blue collar workers to his coalition.

    There’s big concern that support for Line 3 and its jobs means that with Walz’s appeal, anyone with a DFL after his or her name in the 7th and 8th Congressional Districts will be in serious trouble.

    State Sen. Tom Bakk, who is for any and all projects that mean construction, jobs, texted back after I asked him about it: “Line 3 appeal will hurt Democrats with people in the building trades, may also impact Democratic caucus fundraising with those trades unions. I expect the tribes and environmentalists against the (pipeline) would be wise to help the caucuses raise the resources the appeal has cost.”

    I also asked Bakk how he would vote on a Steve Kelley confirmation. Remember, Bakk knows Kelley from back when the latter was also in the upper chamber.

    “Don’t know if Kelley is coming up or if there will be a special session.”

    Not a ringing endorsement.

    About that special session: The Walz administration is exploring options to avoid a special session that would allow Senate Republicans to remove Kelley or any other commissioners.

    An administration source reminded me what Walz has said all along. He has called special sessions every 30 days because he wanted to give the Legislature the chance to accept or reject the emergency powers, not because he has to. Here’s the text of the statute:

    “If the governor determines a need to extend the previous peacetime emergency declaration beyond 30 days and the legislature is not sitting in session, the governor must issue a call immediately convening both houses of the legislature.”

    The law only says he has to call them back for the first extension, meaning he doesn’t have to keep calling them back.

    You could also just call a different emergency. And then another new emergency after that, never seeking extensions. But that seems too clever by half and against the spirit of our constitutional democracy.

    The Senate could wind up suing Walz over this.

    I don’t get why Senate Republicans gave up all their leverage and adjourned. If they were still in session they could continue to treat Walz’s commissioners like hostages.

    The downside of not having a special session is that you can’t get the public works and tax bills done. But my response to that is, from the DFL’s perspective: Who cares? Why not wait until the election is over, bet on a DFL victory and you get better bills next year.

    U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber says the Line 3 appeal has fired up the GOP base up north and tweets a packed Lincoln-Reagan dinner as evidence. (Not a mask in sight.)

    I asked a Walz world source about the appeal and the political fallout, and the answer was about as coherent as every other Walz answer on the pipeline since I started asking then-candidate Walz three years ago.

    From a policy standpoint, if the line is going to get built, they don’t want there to be any doubt that it properly passed every last regulatory hurdle.

    “It’s a tough issue for us,” this person allowed.

    I asked if there’s a rigorous debate about the issue inside the administration.

    “There’s rigorous debate about a lot of issues, including this one. And it’s representative of where Minnesotans stand on it, and that’s a good thing,” said the source.

    For more great nuggets like these, sign up for Daily Reformer, here.

    J. Patrick Coolican
    J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and toddler son.