Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials
Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 8
For safety’s sake, let Enbridge go ahead with pipeline
Existing pipeline is an aging relic, and rail shipments bring their own set of safety risks.
Minnesota has a pipeline problem. Specifically, the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline that carries tar sands crude oil from Canada, through this state to its destination in Superior, Wisconsin.
Built in 1968, the pipeline is a relic — aging and corroded to the point that it operates at half-capacity to avoid the pressure that at full volume might trigger leaks. If that sounds dangerous, it is. Enbridge wants to replace the pipe and add capacity, a $2 billion undertaking that also would route the new 330-mile line away from the Leech Lake tribal reservation.
But replacement of the pipe has become entangled in a bureaucratic, environmental quagmire that now has delayed the project a full year and sparked a battle in which Gov. Tim Walz allowed his Commerce Department to continue to challenge the Public Utilities Commission on its unanimous decision to issue a certificate of need. Shortly after, Enbridge announced the delay.
That means another year of risk to the communities whose property the old line runs through. Worse still, even higher rail shipments of oil. Without additional pipeline capacity, such shipments have hit historic highs. That oil travels through some of the most densely populated areas of the state, posing a potential environmental disaster should there be a derailment.
To some it’s obvious the line should be replaced without delay. Others are equally adamant that the replacement will wed the state even further to fossil fuels just as it is trying to move toward clean energy. And while the new line would not run on reservation land, it would still run through treaty lands, which has prompted strong protest from tribes intent on protecting the quality of those lands.
There are no easy answers here. The Star Tribune Editorial Board remains committed to environmental quality and clean energy goals. And it does not take lightly the protests of tribes that have suffered repeated treaty violations in the past.
But the uncomfortable fact remains that failing to replace the pipeline will not eliminate risk, it will enhance it. And while Minnesota has no oil reserves of its own, it plays a far larger role in oil distribution than many would assume. According to Minnesota House research, 30 percent of all crude oil in the U.S. comes through Minnesota — more than 800 million barrels in 2015.
What doesn’t come through the state’s half-dozen pipelines typically is shipped by rail. Minnesota serves as the primary route from Canada, supplier of more than 40 percent of foreign oil imports. Minnesota also is home to two major refineries and 15 petroleum storage terminals. All of which is to say that Minnesota’s problem in separating itself from fossil fuels is far larger than Line 3, and will take decades to accomplish.
That separation must occur, for the good of the environment. But in the meantime, Minnesota must take responsibility for its energy needs. A new Line 3 should be seen as a transition that will take more oil off rail cars while the state and nation wean themselves off fossil-fuel sources. Unless Minnesota is prepared to try to block rail shipments of oil, it is difficult to see what is accomplished by defaulting to a more dangerous mode of transport.
It is disappointing that Walz allowed the Commerce Department to challenge the PUC. The commission’s process was rigorous and exhaustive. The commissioners, all appointed by former Gov. Mark Dayton, agonized over their decision but concluded that the safety risk posed by the existing line left no viable alternative. “It’s a question of safety,” Commissioner Katie Sieben said.
Walz has said he wants to give tribes a greater say and honor their sovereignty. But in this case, blocking the replacement line will leave a corroding and cracking pipeline running across the Leech Lake reservation.
Walz and the Commerce Department should drop the court challenge and allow the project to proceed.
The Free Press of Mankato, March 6
MNLARS: Bipartisan plan will serve Minnesotans
Why it matters: It’s important to recognize when divided government compromises and works together to benefit taxpayers.
Democrats and Republicans in Minnesota government recently gave Minnesotans evidence that divided government can indeed come together, compromise and solve problems.
The recent agreement between House Democrats, Gov. Tim Walz and Senate Republicans to approve $13 million to fix major glitches and improve service in the MNLARs auto licensing system stands as a very good example.
The plan called for the $13 million emergency funding to keep the contractors working on the fixes and prevents the state from having to start from scratch or be unable to fix something if it malfunctions. That would have been the worst case scenario.
The plan also calls for allocating additional $10 million to eventually reimburse deputy registrars for the losses they incurred while dealing with the system. And importantly, the plan calls for setting up an expert independent commission to advise legislators and the governor on the way forward.
Credit for the compromise goes to both parties. Republicans were willing to pull back on their position of killing the current efforts and starting off with maximum political gain to point to the mistakes of the previous Democratic administration of Gov. Mark Dayton.
Walz deserves credit for being willing to be held accountable by the independent review of the system going forward. The commission may decide to turn to the private sector to manage the system going forward and Walz said he is open to that.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka lauded the early-in-the-session cooperation as a “good sign for things to come.”
The agreement on MNLARS is a win-win-win for Democrats, Republicans and the people of Minnesota.
Post Bulletin, March 7
Walz is willing to bargain, let’s hear plans
In a far-ranging discussion Monday with the Post Bulletin’s editorial board, Gov. Tim Walz indicated his positions on the gas tax, a mandate for electric companies to use only clean energy by 2050, and budget proposals are not hard and fast.
“I’m willing to work with them,” he said of Republican opponents in the Legislature.
But, he said, “At some point in time, ‘no’ is going to have to stop being the answer.”
Walz, who has proposed a 20-cent increase in the gas tax, with all funding going to roads and bridges in the state, said he’s willing to consider a counter-offer. “I want to find a workable solution,” he said. “But I’m not going to kick the can down the road.”
On that point, we agree with the governor. Many Minnesotans might find his 20-cent increase in the gas tax to be excessive. But many of us have also been complaining for at least a decade that the state’s road and bridge infrastructure is in horrible shape.
Walz said that just to maintain the roads and bridges we now have will cost $19.17 billion over the next 19 years. That doesn’t include expansion of the road network.
Minnesota’s not alone in this situation. As Walz pointed out, the newly elected Republican governor of Ohio just proposed an 18-cents-per-gallon increase in that state’s gas tax.
We don’t like a big tax increase any more than the next person. We realize, though, that commerce in rural areas of the state depends on well-maintained roads and bridges.
What we do like is the governor’s offer to those who say we can’t afford his proposal: Come up with a better idea.
“Tell me what your offer is,” he said. “I’m not ideologically tied to a gas tax. But I am tied to safer and better roads in Minnesota.”
Walz gained a reputation as a member of Congress who could reach across the aisle and form working relationships with political opponents. As governor, he appears ready to continue that practice. He has given credit, for instance, to Republicans for agreeing to an increase in MNLARS funding to sort out that mess. “They could have beat me up over it,” Walz said.
Walz described his budget proposals as “scalable,” which again sounds to us like an invitation to all interested parties to step up with alternative plans and proposals.
For the good of the state — especially the rural areas so heavily dependent on transportation infrastructure and so affected by climate change — we urge those who reject Walz’s initial proposals to put forth a plan of their own. We’re all ears.