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Lawmakers don't want taxpayers to foot the bill for Line 3 appeal

ST. PAUL -- A group of Minnesota lawmakers doesn't want taxpayers to foot the bill for the state's appeal of the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline construction project.

A Senate panel on Tuesday, March 12, passed a bill that would prevent the Minnesota Department of Commerce from putting state funds toward an appeal of the construction project.

The proposal comes after the Walz administration last month announced that it would renew an appeal of the pipeline replacement project planned for northern Minnesota.

“This thing has been studied and studied and studied some more and it’s time to move forward,” bill author and Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, said. “(We're) not using any more taxpayer dollars to fight this process."

Senators on the Committee on Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy agreed with Utke that the state shouldn't pay for the Department of Commerce to appeal the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission's certificate of need for the project. The panel voted 8-2 to advance the bill to the Senate Finance Committee, with two Democrats opposing the bill.

Environmental advocates and a state deputy commissioner opposed the bill, saying the legal process should be allowed to run its course.

Joe Sullivan, deputy state commerce commissioner, said the bill posed a dangerous precedent in terms of separation of powers and would derail the state's appeal efforts.

"It would cripple our ability to proceed with the merits of the case, it would cripple our ability to resolve the factual matters of the case," Sullivan said. "The Public Utilities Commission made an error of law in their decision and it’s our view that it is appropriate and right that we see this through the process."

Gov. Tim Walz has maintained that the appeal is needed because Enbridge didn't offer a demand forecast as part of its application for a certificate of need. And while senators didn't think the DFL governor would sign the bill, they said they wanted to send him a message.

Enbridge earlier this month announced that it would delay its timeline on the project due to slower-than-expected permitting in Minnesota. Officials from the Calgary-based company said the pipeline wouldn't be operational until the second half of 2020.