Activists stand behind a fiery-red banner that reads, “Our house is on fire.” They hold up signs about the Line 3 pipeline.
Activists stand behind a fiery-red banner that reads, “Our house is on fire.” They hold up signs about the Line 3 pipeline.
Photo courtesy of Natalie Cook

Minnesota governor Tim Walz portrays himself as a fighter for clean air, clean water, and a clean energy future. He even wrote an op-ed promising that “Minnesota will lead on climate change if Washington won’t.” He cultivates a public image as one of the good guys who listens to the science.

Yet last week, he chose to issue a series of key permits for Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, which would carry millions of barrels of the world’s dirtiest crude through the pristine lake country of northern Minnesota — producing emissions equivalent to 50 new coal-fired power plants.

And we know he could have done otherwise. He could have shown the leadership and courage demonstrated that same week by his fellow Midwestern governor, Gretchen Whitmer, who revoked Enbridge’s authorization to transport oil through its Line 5 pipeline effective May 2021.

Whitmer listened to the science and the concerns of her constituents, including the Indigenous communities who have been on the frontlines of fighting the pipeline. She refused to be taken in by Enbridge’s glossy PR claiming that its pipelines don’t harm people or our planet, and instead looked at its ugly record. Enbridge is responsible for one of the largest inland oil spills in this country, which contaminated 38 miles of the Kalamazoo River and cost $1 billion to clean up. And its Line 5 pipeline has safety problems dating back decades — issues it has declined to resolve and, in some cases, has hidden from the state of Michigan.

Whitmer understands that our clean water and our stable climate are priceless resources — ones we shouldn’t sacrifice for corporate profits, especially if it’s the profits of a repeat bad actor like Enbridge.

Walz, on the other hand, refused to listen to the science, which clearly states that avoiding catastrophic climate change means no new fossil fuel infrastructure. And he’s apparently not listening to nature’s warnings: This year’s unprecedentedly damaging wildfire and hurricane seasons demonstrate that the climate crisis is already harming the places we call home. We can’t afford to dig ourselves even deeper into this hole.

Scientists have also found that the tar sands oil Enbridge hopes to transport through Line 3 is some of the dirtiest fuel on the planet. It’s almost impossible to clean up when spilled — and pipelines always spill. Allowing Enbridge to complete this pipeline poses a grave threat to Minnesotans’ fresh water.

Walz and his administration have certainly refused to listen to the Ojibwe community members who oppose the construction of a pipeline through their treaty territories and sacred wild rice beds. And if construction were to start during this pandemic, Tribal communities have warned, construction workers will flood into rural communities with limited medical resources.

Walz failed to listen to the warnings of scientists. He failed Tribal communities and all the people of Minnesota. And ultimately, he failed himself — by not having the courage to be the clean energy leader he says he wants to be.

But Walz certainly still has the opportunity to step up, follow in Governor Whitmer’s footsteps, and lead on climate — and we hope he does before construction begins on this disastrous pipeline. In the meantime, other Minnesota public officials have the opportunity to intervene. Tell Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison to pause the pipeline at least until the pandemic is under control and our legal challenges have their day in court—and hopefully forever.

Along with our allies, we’ve been fighting this pipeline for years, and we aren’t stopping now. Together, we can create an uproar that our elected officials can’t close their ears to.

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