ST. PAUL — A key Minnesota Senate leader on Wednesday, Aug. 19, said Republicans in that chamber would bring up for review the state commerce commissioner who appealed the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline project.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, on Wednesday told reporters that a Senate panel on Friday would hold a performance review for Department of Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley. The full Senate could vote as early as next month on Kelley's confirmation or firing.

While the hearing was already slated, Gazelka said Republicans had hoped they wouldn't have to ask Kelley about another appeal. And he noted that in February he'd raised concerns to Gov. Tim Walz about Kelley and former Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink. The Senate in a surprise move voted down Leppink's confirmation last week.

"We do want to have that conversation and see why they continue to stand against this," Gazelka said. “I want to look at every situation objectively but this was a big deal, a bipartisan big deal that we actually thought was going to be done."

The comments come a day after the Minnesota Department of Commerce announced it would file an appeal to the project, alleging the Public Utilities Commission erred in granting Enbridge a certificate of need for the replacement project.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

In a news release, department officials said they would challenge the decision, saying the commission shouldn't have granted the certificate of need in February because Enbridge did not introduce a long-range demand forecast and that the PUC had shifted "the burden of proof from Enbridge to the Department (of Commerce) and others to show that demand for product transmitted by Line 3 would decrease during the forecast period."

Tribal leaders and environmental groups quickly celebrated the move, while Republican lawmakers, trade unions, local officials and business leaders said it was a step backward. Gazelka said the appeal dealt a blow to northern Minnesota communities that were eager to see Enbridge break ground as early as this year.

"It's a huge disappointment for many of us in northern Minnesota," Gazelka said. "It’s time to let this project go through and here we are with another delay that we did not need, that the governor chose to do when he did not have to do this.”

Enbridge wants to replace its existing Line 3 with a new pipeline that will transport 760,000 barrels of oil (or about 31.92 million gallons) per day from Alberta, Canada, to the Enbridge terminal in Superior, Wis., and follow a new route through much of Minnesota.

Rep. Frank Hornstein, D-Minneapolis, chairs the House Transportation Committee and on Wednesday voiced support for the Walz administration's move to intervene along with more than a dozen DFL lawmakers. And he said the move to hold up commissioners' positions over decisions that Republican lawmakers disagree with is "reckless and irresponsible."

“They're playing politics with very very important commissioner positions," Hornstein said. "The Senate is punishing able public servants."

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop is set to come up for a performance review on Monday and Public Utilities Commissioner Joe Sullivan on Tuesday faced questions from a Senate panel. Gazelka said the timing of the energy-related hearings was a coincidence.