Anti-pipeline protesters interrupted Gov. Mark Dayton Saturday as he spoke to more than 800 Minnesotans at a summit about how to clean the state’s water.
A half dozen people representing environmental and American Indian groups carrying signs saying “Love water, not oil” went up on stage, while others stood in front of Dayton holding a similar banner. They criticized him for supporting oil pipelines across northern Minnesota.
“Why are no tribal groups represented” at the water summit, a man carrying a megaphone asked Dayton.
A Dayton spokesman said the governor’s office invited leaders of all 11 tribes in the state to attend the summit, but they did not send representatives. The meeting was open to the general public if they registered in advance.
The governor asked the protesters to leave stage, which they did after a few minutes, and he met with them for half an hour before he visited breakout groups at the summit.
“I’m going sugar bushing and ricing,” Dayton said after the meeting, meaning he will take a spring trip to tap maple trees for sugar and a summer visit to wild rice country for a harvest.
The governor regularly meets with tribal leaders, and he said they set the agenda. He would be happy to talk about water and pipelines, he said.
“Economic growth and strong environmental objectives are complementary,” Dayton said. “It does not have to be either-or.”
Dayton promised that his agencies would keep close watch for any environmental problems if the pipelines are built.
Environmentalists and some tribal groups say the proposed new Sandpiper pipeline and a replacement pipeline known as Line 3 would damage sensitive areas, especially northern Minnesota wetlands. The pipelines would go near the Mississippi River headwaters.
“I share their concern about … environmental protection,” the governor told reporters.
Dayton said that North Dakota oil should be transported by pipelines because moving it by train is more dangerous. There are no other alternatives, he said, although protesters said they prefer no pipeline.
Dayton also pointed out that he has no say in pipeline decisions, something left up to the Public Utilities Commission. Governors do, however, appoint commission members.