February 27, 2020
by Hannah Jones
The Capella office tower in downtown Minneapolis is so echoey, it was hard to ignore the protesters chanting on the second floor no matter where you were standing.
The group, carrying signs that said “STOP LINE 3” and “NO PIPELINES,” was gathered outside the elevators to Winthrop and Weinstine, a law firm way up on the 35th floor. A few people dressed in office attire skirted past them warily as they headed to lunch. A man in a tie watched the proceedings from a few yards away, occasionally muttering a few words into a walkie-talkie.
Calgary energy company Enbridge is trying to replace its massive Line 3 pipeline, which pumps oil across a large swath of northern Minnesota, with a newer, bigger pipeline.
The protesters hailed from Twin Cities Democratic Socialists of America, Northfield Against Line 3, and other anti-pipeline orgs. They argue completing the pipeline and allowing more oil (760,000 barrels a day, to be exact) to gush through the state will only add to our climate change woes. They also say it’s only a matter of time before it leaks, with potentially devastating effects on the environment and the surrounding Native communities.
The protesters explained they were in Capella and not, say, the state Capitol, because Winthrop and Weinstine lawyer Eric Swanson works as a registered lobbyist for Enbridge, and spends a lot of time testifying before the state’s Public Utilities Commission. Enbridge, in fact, was Minnesota’s biggest spender on lobbying in 2018, according to the Star Tribune, with a whopping $11.1 million spent mostly on those arguments before the PUC.
Then there’s Winthrop and Weinstine’s purported financial influence. In 2019, the law firm gave thousands of dollars to a smattering of local and state campaigns, and $25,000 to Gov. Tim Walz’s inaugural committee, according to MPR. (Unlike campaign committee donations, our state’s inaugural committees have no restrictions on who can give or how much.)
In short, the problem, one protester said into the megaphone, was “the suit and tie motherfuckers going around giving money to politicians like Tim Walz.” Shortly afterward, the man with the tie and the walkie-talkie sidled up and informed the protester that “respectful language” was used “in this building.”
Walz has been difficult to pin down on Line 3. In 2017, he tweeted that any pipeline that went through treaty lands was a “non-starter.” Then, during his campaign, he said he was “satisfied” with the PUC’s decision to move forward with the project. Last year, he continued a court appeal set by the previous administration to block the pipeline project, a decision Enbridge called “unfortunate.”
The protestors aren’t willing to celebrate until he puts his foot down.
“If you take money from the fossil fuel lobby you cannot call yourself a climate progressive and you cannot expect our support,” the group said in a statement.
Mere minutes after the chanting began, a few security guards turned up and started herding the protestors toward the doors. They went willingly, seemingly unsurprised that they were being asked to leave so soon. But as they squeezed out the front doors with their signs and megaphones, they chanted, “We’ll be back.”
Gretchen Milbrath, Winthrop and Weinstine’s director of business, said the firm respected the group’s right to protest, but wouldn’t comment on the specifics.