Gov. Tim Walz said Friday that he and his new administration will be "actively engaged" on contentious natural resources issues, including Enbridge Energy's plan to replace its aging Line 3 oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.
Speaking to reporters at an annual Department of Natural Resources conference, Walz said he has asked his team to review the lawsuit that was filed by the outgoing administration of Gov. Mark Dayton that challenges the decision by the independent Public Utilities Commission to approve the project. Walz said he wants to understand why the Commerce Department felt the process was insufficient and that it needed to turn to the courts.
"The decision will stop with me, but it will be informed by all of the stakeholders involved," the governor said.
Commerce said in its appeal that Enbridge did not introduce, and the commission did not properly evaluate, the kind of long-range oil demand forecast required by law. The PUC stood by its decision, saying its approval was supported by the law and a vigorous public review process.
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Walz said he's grateful for Dayton's work as governor, but he'll bring a new leadership style, pattered on the style Walz used when he was in Congress, building coalitions from the beginning. He acknowledged he's inheriting some "pretty touchy issues," but pointed out that he has a new DNR commissioner in Sarah Strommen, a new head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and that he'll get to appoint a new PUC commissioner.
"You can expect to see us actively engaged, not turning away from these," he said.
Walz didn't lay out any policy initiatives or signal any change in the DNR's direction when he spoke to the gathering earlier, except to affirm a campaign promise to inaugurate an official governor's turkey hunting opener celebration, patterned after the governor's fishing, deer and pheasant season openers.
But the governor said he has empowered Strommen, whom he promoted from her previous post as an assistant commissioner, to build coalitions, reset relationships and build trust among the DNR's stakeholders. And he told legislators present that he looks forward to finding common ground with them.
"I oftentimes talk about having a foot in both camps, not to find a wishy-washy middle that makes easy politics, but to have a true and open mind, to try and see the situation from different points of view," he said.
Walz noted that he hunts, fishes, hikes and paddles, and said the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, where his brother died in a 2016 storm, is "sacred to our family." The wilderness area is also caught up in the debate over allowing copper-nickel mining in northeastern Minnesota.
The DNR late in the Dayton administration approved permits for the PolyMet mine near Babbitt. Assistant Commissioner Barb Naramore, who led that review, will keep her position under Strommen. When Walz appointed Strommen earlier this month, she said she didn't have a position yet on another proposed mine, Twin Metals near Ely, which would sit just upstream from Boundary Waters.
In her speech to the gathering, Strommen, the first woman to lead the agency, said many women have reached out to say they never thought they would see a female DNR commissioner. She suggested flipping the issue and asking why a woman hadn't been appointed DNR commissioner before.
Strommen pointed out that women are the main influencers of consumer spending in the U.S., make the vast majority of decisions about their families' travel and leisure activities, and comprise the fastest-growing segment of new adult hunters.
"We need to think about these issues from different perspectives, and think about who isn't here, and maybe should be," she said.