Line 3: Balance jobs with narrow legal appeal

Opposing sides in the controversy over building the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline across northern Minnesota seem more concerned with how the issue will play out politically rather than any reasoned concern for jobs and the environment. Senate Republicans recently grilled Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelly on his decision to appeal a court decision. That appeal will further delay the project, which still faces permit requirements from several other agencies.

Kelly, a Democrat, decided to appeal the decision with the backing of Gov. Tim Walz. But the issue tends to split Democrats among those who want jobs in northern Minnesota and environmentalists.

Three Minnesota Indian tribes oppose the new line, worried about spills and other damage to Indian lands including those for wild rice harvesting. Another Minnesota Indian tribe supports the new line, fearing the old line is more dangerous. Construction of the $2.6 billion pipeline is expected to bring hundreds of jobs to the area.

The Public Utilities Commission has three times voted to approve the project, but the first two decisions were thrown out by courts for somewhat technical reasons.

Kelly told a Senate committee the latest appeal focuses on a narrow part of the law that deals with how pipeline owner Enbridge should have to analyze future demand for global oil. It seems like a small detail, but it’s an important nuance to some.

Enbridge cites its own analysis and that of another researcher to show demand for the oil carried by the pipeline — 766,000 barrels per day — will be strong for decades.

The Walz administration argument seems more about crossing T’s and dotting I’s in the demand analysis, and it argues that if Enbridge did a proper study it would show much lower demand for oil in light of an energy environment that will favor electric cars and far lower fossil fuel use.

That analysis, if oil demand is shown to be lower and pipelines won’t be needed, would likely force the PUC to deny the permit or certificate of need.

It’s important to note that the PUC voted 4-1 to approve the permit in the most recent case with three Democrat-appointed members and one Republican voting in favor while the member without party affiliation but appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton voted no.

Democrats face a political dilemma in that the issue is creating a party fissure.

The issue shouldn’t be viewed through the lens of political narrative, but rather through the lens of balancing environmental interests against those interests for jobs and economic opportunity in an economy decimated by the pandemic.

— The Free Press of Mankato


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