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Who Is Gov. Tim Walz and Why Is He So Important for the Climate?

Insights + Opinion
Governor Tim Walz holds up the signed oath on his Jan. 8 inauguration day at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota. Lorie Shaull / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Rachel Rye Butler

We've only got 10 years to work on the climate. But, thankfully the Green New Deal is pushing and shoving its way through Congress — putting elected leaders and presidential candidates to the test to show us whether they're actually serious about climate action.

And while climate champions like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are advocating for widespread and far-reaching federal climate policy, we need to do everything in our power (which is pretty mighty) to make sure state officials like Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan keep fossil fuels in the ground right now by stopping projects like Enbridge's dangerous Line 3 tar sands pipeline.


Basically, Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan are faced with the biggest issue of our time. Their test? Whether they'll stop major fossil fuel expansion in Minnesota and begin to build a green and just economy for all Minnesotans — or continue on with business as usual, which will exacerbate our climate crisis in a time we desperately need to change course.

The administration recently took a good first step by continuing a key appeal of the Line 3 pipeline permits, but there's more that the administration can and should do to make sure that this dangerous pipeline never gets built.

State-based fights like stopping Line 3 are a key part to the current wave of climate movement and #GreenNewDeal momentum. And, if Line 3 is successfully stopped, it'll create a beacon for the rest of the country to look to at a time when it's needed the most.

But, until we have a policy that addresses both creating a green economy and limiting fossil fuel expansion, every action you take will bring us all closer to the world we want to see.

What Is Line 3?

We know that it's time to stop building more fossil fuel projects like tar sands pipelines. Unfortunately, not everyone has gotten the memo. Fossil fuel company Enbridge is raring to build Line 3, a new tar sands pipeline in Minnesota that is larger than Keystone XL and that would cross indigenous treaty lands without the consent of some of the impacted tribes.

Tar sands are one of the dirtiest sources of oil on the planet. In fact, they produce 30 to 40 percent more climate pollution than "conventional" oil. Not only is tar sands oil bad news for the climate, but it's also bad for the water too. We know it's not a matter of if, but when pipelines spill. And when they do, they can be nearly impossible to clean up.

Water at Risk

Enbridge's Line 3 tar sands pipeline would cross Minnesota's freshwater lakes region and the Mississippi River not once but TWICE. Their track record doesn't bode well for all this water.

A recent Greenpeace USA report found that Enbridge and its joint ventures and subsidiaries reported 307 hazardous liquids incidents to federal regulators from 2002 to present — one incident every 20 days on average.

Not only have Enbridge pipelines seen some of the largest pipeline spills in American history — including a spill in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in 1991, and a spill into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010 — the data shows that it's both Enbridge's old AND new pipelines that spill. Forty-six of the incidents from 2002-2018 were from equipment installed 10 years or less prior to the problem.

What Can Be Done to #StopLine3?

Over the past ten years, indigenous leaders and frontline activists have worked so hard to stop tar sands pipelines like Line 3 and Keystone XL at every juncture with local mobilizations, lawsuits, thousands of public comments and direct action.

Thankfully Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan have the opportunity to listen to the people and shut this project down now. In announcing his decision to continue the Department of Commerce appeal of the pipeline permits, Governor Walz said that projects like Line 3 need a "social permit." In the years that this project has been proposed, 90 percent of the public comments collected about the project have been against Line 3, and the Department of Commerce's own analysis shows that the project is more risk than reward for Minnesota.

Continuing forward with the Department of Commerce's legal appeal of the project permits is an important first step, but there is more that Walz and Flanagan can do. The project still needs key permits from the administration to cross over 200 lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands. What's more, Walz can use the bully pulpit of the governor's office to set a new direction for the state of Minnesota.

Here's the thing — stopping fossil fuel projects like Line 3 is a necessary part of action on climate that actually meets the scale of the problem.

Want to create local change that protects communities from fossil fuel infrastructure? Jump-start the transition to a democratic 100 percent renewable energy economy? Limits political power of Big Oil? State-based fights like stopping Line 3 are a key part to the current wave of climate movement and #GreenNewDeal momentum.

You can start by signing this petition to the administration asking that they do everything in their power to #StopLine3.

What's Next?

Line 3 is a disaster for the climate. It threatens the water. And many impacted tribes have not given their consent. So the question is this:

Are Gov. Walz and Lt. Gov. Flanagan willing to keep Minnesota tied to a fossil fuel economy and risk Minnesota's climate, water, wild rice and relationships with tribes to build a dangerous tar sands pipeline?

Rachel Rye Butler leads the Democracy Campaign at Greenpeace USA.

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