Line 3 dispute could cost Walz another commissioner

A man in a suit and tie speaks at a podium.
Minnesota Department of Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley speaks to reporters in November 2019. The top Republican in the Minnesota Senate says Kelley is under scrutiny after this week's decision to further challenge the Line 3 oil pipeline project.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2019

Minnesota Senate Republicans are expected to grill state Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley this week on the decision by the administration of DFL Gov. Tim Walz to further challenge the Line 3 oil pipeline project.

The Commerce Department announced plans Tuesday to appeal state utility regulators’ decision earlier this year to approve Enbridge Energy’s proposal to replace a deteriorating pipeline that crosses northern Minnesota with a new, larger pipe along a different route. 

Kelley is scheduled to appear before two Senate committees Friday for a confirmation hearing.

Members of two other Senate committees will meet Aug. 31 to review the job performance of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said Wednesday he was surprised and disappointed by Kelley’s latest appeal of the project. He said Senate Republicans already had Kelley under scrutiny.

“There were two commissioners that I went to the governor to in February and said they’re not doing their jobs,” Gazelka said. “One was Commissioner Leppink and the other was Commissioner Kelley.”

The Senate voted last week in a special session to oust Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink.

Gazelka would not say if a similar vote is coming next month for Kelley when the Legislature is expected to meet again in another special session to decide whether to extend the governor’s emergency authority to fight COVID-19. But Gazelka stressed that the Line 3 situation looms large.

“I want to look at every situation objectively,” he said. “But this was a very big deal, a bipartisan big deal that we actually thought was going to be done that is now going the opposite direction. The jobs aren’t there, the promises weren’t kept and so now we’re going to reevaluate.”

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